Michael Blake CD Review by Dave O Rama

by • July 8, 2016 • Album Reviews, BC Musicians, Current Issue, Front Page, Read Online, Reviews1133

Michael Blake

Hailing from Vancouver and a long time resident of New York City, jazz saxophonist Michael Blake navigates his listeners through a sonic narrative exploring the Komagata Maru incident, a Canadian tragedy which occurred in Vancouver in 1914.

Commissioned by Vancouver’s Barking Sphinx Performance Society, Fulfillment is a historical account, told through music, of the rejection of 352 citizens of the British Raj, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus, who were refused immigration based on racist policies, which in turn resulted in conflict and death. Their steamship, the Komagata Maru, was towed out of the harbour by Canadian officials after arriving from Hong Kong in May 1914. A skirmish ensued and when the ship was forced to return to India many on board were killed or imprisoned.

Blake delivers a compelling eight part suite dripping with soul and sizzling with inspired performances. It’s an accomplished crew Blake has assembled for his creative voyage including J.P. Carter on trumpet and electronics, cellist Peggy Lee, Andre Lachance on bass, and the incredible rhythm machine that is Dylan van der Schyff on drums. All respected music instructors and players on the Vancouver music scene.

In addition, pianist Chris Gestrin contributes some inspiring interplay with the other musicians and his synergy with guest vocalist Emma Postl adds another dimension to the work, while his sly flourishes of MicroMoog set off happy sparks in my mind. Ron Samworth provides strong emotional threads on electric guitar and banjo, and when he joins forces with guest guitarist Aram Bajakian, a piece like Exaltation truly lives up to its name, especially with the added tabla work on the track from Los Angeles percussionist Neelamjit Dhillon.

This is a soundtrack to an imaginary film that takes the listener on a voyage of the mind through a raw part of Canadian history that still resonates with current events in the world. All the variables of the natural world, all the subtleties and all the extremes, are intricately sculpted into a moving human drama lovingly constructed in sound. 

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