“Calling the music made by drummer Blade’s assemblage ‘jazz’ is like calling Lady Liberty a statue – it is, and so much more. Drawing from jazz, rock, country, folk, and pretty much every musical idiom either indigenous to or nurtured in America, ‘Perceptual’ is a melting pot of sound that wordlessly speaks of the conflicts and triumphs of the human experience.” Billboard July 2000
When the opening track of any album is the title track there’s a sense of anticipation, a sense of what to expect from the rest of the package – and Perceptual does not disappoint. The song-writing credits are split between Blade and keyboard player (and Fellowship co-founder) Jon Cowherd, giving a feeling of cohesion to the record that is totally satisfying.
Blade made his Blue Note debut age twenty-four on Kevin Hayes’s, Seventh Sense in 1994. Five years later when he made this, his second Blue Note album as a leader, he had already done a string of sessions for the label and played on other artists’ recordings for other companies.
Some of the textures are Methenyesque and every track is more a soundscape than simply a song. Kurt Rosenwinkel’s guitar shines throughout, lending an ethereal feel to most every track, and when added to the dynamic piano playing of Cowherd, the musicians create fabulous melodies, rich textures, and deep-felt drama.
Highlights, aside from the title track, are the anthemic ‘Crooked Creek’ and the monumental, ‘Steadfast’, featuring a haunting vocal from Joni Mitchell that harks back to her Hejira album of nearly three decades earlier. Captured in Oxnard, California a month after the principal recording, Mitchell’s performance is outstanding.
Billboard got it absolutely right, but what they didn’t say is that this is one of THE jazz albums of the modern era – it really is that good. How Brian Blade is not even better known remains a mystery; but maybe not for too much longer.
“Blade remains one of his generation’s most creative and dynamic percussionists, cradling his band’s music with empathetic waves of rhythmic sound while propelling it ever forward toward unchartered waters.” Billboard July 2000