With long stints in Kenny Barron and Tom Harrell’s bands and his recent appearance on last year’s Dr. Lonnie Smith’s All in My Mind, Johnathan Blake has established himself over the years as one of the premier drummers of his generation. Earlier this month, Blake released his third album as a leader on photographer and recording engineer Jimmy Katz’ new non-profit imprint Giant Step Arts. Trion, a double album recorded live at New York City’s Jazz Gallery, features Blake in a chordless trio setting alongside revered saxophonist Chris Potter and star bassist Linda May Han Oh.
The album’s title is taken from a physics term that refers to three atoms combining to form a single unit, a deeply symbolic metaphor for the band’s cohesion and unity. “I’m in awe of both Linda and Chris,” Blake says. “This was a really beautiful chance for us to make some honest music together and I really enjoyed the process. We all felt very comfortable in the chordless format; we really know how to fill up the space without getting in each other’s way, which gives each one of us the opportunity to have our shining moments.”
Trion is the second release for Giant Step Arts, a groundbreaking and artist-focused non-profit with the mission of helping modern jazz innovators to create their art free of commercial pressure. For the artists it chooses to work with, the nonprofit commissions new work and presents premiere performances, records these performances for independent release, and provides the artists with 800 CDs and digital downloads to sell directly. Artists have total control of their artistic projects and own their own masters. Giant Step Arts does not sell any music, but it provides promotional photos and videos and PR support for the recordings.
When Katz approached him with the offer to record, Blake says, “I was almost in shock. It’s almost unheard of for artists nowadays to own their own project if they sign with a record label. Jimmy and [his wife and partner] Dena Katz have always been strong advocates for the music and they just want the best artistic project out there. Their idea is that if the project is really good, it’s not only a reflection of the artist but it’s also a reflection on them. I think they’re really visionaries in that respect.”
Trion is a powerful and deeply exciting masterpiece, filled with extended cuts which brilliantly showcase the exceptional musicianship of all three members of the trio. The album never disappoints and is sure to keep listeners at the edge of their seats with its electrifying energy, its momentous intensity, and its unabashed relentless. All in all, a truly exceptional work of modern jazz.
You can stream the group’s rendition of bassist Charles Fambrough’s “One for Honor” below, originally recorded on McCoy Tyner’s 1980 album Horizon, and later on Fambrough’s own 1991 release The Proper Angle. In Blake’s own words: “Charles basically knew me from birth and was one of the first people to give me a professional gig when I was still living in Philadelphia. He was like an uncle to me, and I want his music to live on and people to know about this amazing musician who left us way too soon.”
Trion, the new album by drummer Johnathan Blake is out now on Giant Step Arts.