Season of Changes is the third album and first Verve release by Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, the visionary ensemble that matches renowned drummer/composer Blade with the formidable talents of pianist and composer Jon Cowherd, Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Chris Thomas (bass), Myron Walden (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) and Melvin Butler (tenor saxophone).
The album features nine moving new works by Blade and Cowherd, and offers a compelling distillation of the compositional eloquence and collective chemistry that have made Blade and his longtime bandmates one of contemporary jazz's most respected ensembles.
True to its title, Season of Changes (produced by Blade and Cowherd) finds the players pursuing their collective muse into emotionally evocative new territory. The album opens with the gently striking "Rubylou's Lullaby," one of the album's six Blade compositions, followed by Cowherd's driving, multi-movement "Return of the Prodigal Son," which showcases Rosenwinkel's stellar guitar work and Butler's emotive tenor. The title track is a modern epic that reveals Cowherd's depth and growth as a composer, as well as his ability to write for the band's collective expression. Another highlight is "Most Precious One" and its companion piece "Most Precious One (Prodigy)." The former starts off with Thomas' steady bass mantra, and then transitions into a more layered, beat-driven performance of the composition. The album closes with the Blade composition "Omni," which features Walden's soaring alto.
Season of Changes is the group's first album in eight years, following 1998's Daniel Lanois-produced Brian Blade Fellowship and 2000's Perceptual, which Blade and Cowherd co-produced.
The Louisiana-bred Blade's remarkable percussive sensitivity and versatility were nurtured in his hometown of Shreveport and later in New Orleans under the tutelage of such mentors as John Mahoney, Steve Masakowski, Bill Huntington, George French, Ellis Marsalis and drumming masters John Vidacovich and David Lee, Jr. In recent years, he's balanced his Fellowship activities with his parallel career as one of today's most in-demand drummers, with a resume that includes recording and/or live work with a broad range of musical artists that includes Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan, Bill Frisell, Kenny Garrett, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Joshua Redman, Seal and Wayne Shorter.
Despite his and his cohorts' prestigious individual resumes, Blade emphasizes the Fellowship Band's collaborative focus. "I feel less like a leader than I feel like I'm trying to be part of an enduring collective statement," he states. "It's always a learning experience to take the trip and see what happens when we mix and mingle as a band. Everybody gives everything to it, and it's always a joyful experience, even when the music is melancholy.”
"When I'm writing for the Fellowship," Blade explains, "Myron and Melvin and Chris and Jon and Kurt are always in my mind and I'm writing for their voices. The music on paper sits dormant, until I bring it to them and they inject it with their energy. That's when it becomes real. It's the same with Jon's writing; it always inspires me to hear what he's working on, because he has a real talent for bringing out the gifts of the group."
The musicians' individual talents and organic rapport make Season of Changes a memorable evocation of Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band's singular brilliance. "I feel really blessed to be a part of this group," Blade asserts, "and to know these people and to feel such dedication and emotional investment in being a part of this band. It's not something that you can put on paper; it's a chemical reaction that comes from people having a connection, and in our case it keeps growing. Even if we have a lot of time away from each other, the thread is held, and it's still there when we come back to it. It really feels like coming home to my family.”
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