Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake makes large statements utilizing small groups on his latest Mack Avenue release, offering 13 diverse and creative duo and trio recordings. Although Virgin Island native Blake's name is the one on the cover here, co-credit truly should have gone to pianist and producer Michael Cain, who appears on every track, wrote or co-wrote some of the music, and guides it all as much as Blake does. The two work beautifully together, and although Shayari probably would have played just as splendidly if Blake and Cain were the only two musicians on it, its A-list of guests - bassist (and former employer) Christian McBride, drummer Jack DeJohnette, violinist Regina Carter, and percussionist Gilmar Gomes - brings vital flavorings to the tracks on which the guests appear. While it's still often tempting to play "spot the influences" in Blake's playing, he's clearly emerged as his own man here: his solos bear a light but forceful touch; his phrasing is smart and absorbing, often boldly leaving the confines he's set up for himself to see what might lie on the other side. For his part, Cain's ornate solos and fills add multiple dimensions to the tunes. At times one might long for the players to cut loose more than they do - and sometimes, as on the playful "Atonement" and Cain's "76," DeJohnette does run with it, not bothering to wait for Blake and Cain to keep up - but Blake always keeps things moving quickly, deceptively so at times. On his composition "Of Kindred Souls," which Roy Hargrove covered some 15 years earlier with Blake along for the ride as a bandmember, Carter's violin (the only track on which she appears, unfortunately) is used sparingly but effectively, and McBride, as always, adds depth to his two spots, particularly the skippy, Latin-tinged "Teddy," a Bobby Hutcherson tune. Gomes is probably the least known of the guest contributors, his unobtrusive percussion serving more of a sprinkling than the full-on attack of DeJohnette's drums. But he is undeniably an essential component of his three tracks: on the album-opening "Waltz for Gwen," which Blake cut previously on his 2000 debut as a leader, then playing alto, the Brazilian Gomes heads instinctively south as Blake blows authoritatively and sensually and Cain dabbles in the blues. All of this is put forth in a sparkling, closely recorded manner that should finally establish the name Ron Blake - and the name Michael Cain - as a jazz force to be reckoned with.
All Music Guide