Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band
Landmarks, the fourth recording by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band, marks
their return to Blue Note Records, released in cooperation with the Shreveport,
Louisiana-based label MidCity Records. Blade chose to record seven of the 10 compositions
in his hometown of Shreveport at Blade Studios, which was opened in 2011 by his older
brother, drummer, and producer Brady Blade Jr. Shreveport is an inland port city situated
40 miles south of Arkansas, 20 miles east of Texas, and 100 miles north of the Gulf Coast.
Its location makes it a sonic catchment basin for various Afro-diasporic strains--gospel,
rhythm and blues, blues, and various iterations of jazz--and vernacular folk idioms that
developed indigenously in the surrounding territories.
"The word landmark seems to have an arrow attached to it," says Blade. "The idea
is that we're here right now, and we're passing signs along the way that mark where we are.
I like the journey aspect of Landmarks, the trip that the songs seem to comprise.
There's a lot of through-composition--some short, poetic things, then some long, epic
landscapes that we travel. I try to write what I have discovered and realized with as much
clarity as possible, while thinking of the band. When we play it, all this rhythm, melody,
and harmony becomes alive, and other ideas reveal themselves."
As on each prior Fellowship Band release, Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd create their own
musical poetry, with an ear to the individualistic styles of Myron Walden (alto saxophone
and bass clarinet), Melvin Butler (soprano and tenor saxophones), and Chris Thomas (bass).
The Fellowship Band has remained a unit since its eponymous 1998 debut and its 2000 follow
up, Perceptual--all heard in the cohesion and exploratory spirit of their
collective and individual interpretations, orchestrated and propelled by the leader's
in-the-moment beats and textures.
The Landmarks journey begins with Cowherd's brief melodic improvisation on the
Mellotron in his composition "Down River," preparing the stage for the hymn-like title
track, which Cowherd also composed.
"Jon is one of the main reasons why I started to compose," Blade says, noting that their
relationship dates to 1988, when both attended Loyola University in New Orleans. "After we
met, we'd play duo all the time, improvising, playing songs we knew, and Jon's original
music. For example, he wrote 'Perceptual,' the title of our second album, in 1991 or '92.
We performed it on his senior recital. Jon was initially a French horn major, and he writes
with a tonal connection to the horn, with wind and spirit and flow. He writes from a place
inside--a place of memory, imagination, and dreams, which we share."
The stomping drumbeats on "He Died Fighting" impart anthemic Native American vibrations,
intensified by Walden's soulful alto solo. "It's a portrait of several heroes: Martin
Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and my maternal grandfather Levi Gardner--soldiers who fought
to make justice something real," Blade says. "That fight continues through others, through
things they set in motion." Walden's melodic proclivities also come forth in his bass
clarinet reading of "Friends Call Her Dot," Blade's portrait of his mother Dorothy, a
former kindergarten teacher.
Blade is as comfortable composing word-songs and propelling the musical flow for masters
like Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan, as he is personalizing
the complex codes of jazz drumming with the likes of Kenny Garrett, Ellis Marsalis, Joshua
Redman, Bill Frisell, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and, for the last 13 years, Wayne
Shorter's extraordinary quartet.
"Wayne has been an enormous blessing in my life," says Blade, who performed on Shorter's
recent Blue Note recording Without a Net and numerous 80th birthday events in
2013. "I've learned from him that we start from nothing--what he calls 'zero gravity'--and
must be faithful to the idea of being fearless, taking a chance together to walk out on the