Ron Blake
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Ron Blake

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The best kept secret in music


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Sonic Tonic (2005) Initial pressings include a limited edition bonus remix CD. Personnel: Reuben Rogers (acoustic guitar); David Gilmore (electric guitar); Ron Blake (flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Sean Jones (flugelhorn); Vincent Chancey (French horn); Josh Roseman (trombone); Marcus Rojas (tuba); Michael Cain (piano, keyboard); Christian McBride (double bass); Terreon Gully, Chris Dave (drums); Pedro Martinez (congas). Recording information: Chung King, New York, NY

Lest We Forget (2003) Personnel: Ron Blake (saxophone); Rashawn Ross (trumpet); Joey DeFrancesco (organ); David Gilmore (guitar): Christian McBride (bass); Greg Hutchinson (drums); Bob Muller (triangle). Recorded at Dangerous Music, New York, New York.
On Ron Blake's Mack Avenue debut, he steps out to showcase the exceptional tenor and soprano sax talents that have served to make him one of the most in-demand sidemen working in jazz today. Produced by Christian McBride.



If it’s true that you can judge a man by the company he keeps, then Ron Blake would certainly earn the esteem of music fans everywhere…not only from jazz audiences that have come to respect his work with such artists as Roy Hargrove, Art Farmer and, most recently Christian McBride, but from fans of Latin rock, who know him as a featured soloist with Grammy® nominees Yerba Buena, and from the alternative music crowd for his performances with Meshell Ndegeocello’s band, Spirit Music Jamia.

Blake brings the same eclectic approach that has caught the attention of such a wide array of musical talents to his solo work, the culmination of which is now on display on his newest CD for Mack Avenue, “Sonic Tonic.” Produced by Meshell Ndegeocello, “Sonic Tonic” traverses the multi-textured terrain of the jazz landscape, fusing funk, Latin and Caribbean rhythms with the more traditional jazz sound that marked 2003’s critically acclaimed release, “Lest We Forget.” Joining Blake on “Sonic Tonic” are some familiar names—Christian McBride and Reuben Rogers on bass, Michael Cain on keyboards, Terreon Gully, Chris Dave and Greg Hutchinson on drums, Gilmar Gomes on percussion, Pedro Martinez on congas, David Gilmore on guitar, a horn section that features Mack Avenue label-mate Sean Jones on flugelhorn as well as Josh Roseman on trombone, Vincent Chancey on French horn, and Marcus Rojas on tuba.

It is Blake’s ongoing collaboration with acclaimed bassist Meshell Ndegeocello that adds a distinctive dimension to the eleven tracks that comprise the musical elements of “Sonic Tonic.” The two musicians first met eight years ago when both were performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Blake was working with Roy Hargrove, Ndegeocello touring in support of her first release. Ndegeocello says that she watched as Blake played the entire set on his knees (“I couldn’t hear the monitor any other way,” he explains) and was so impressed that she later approached him in the lobby of their hotel. Several years later, the two collaborated on MCA’s “Red Hot + Riot” compilation dedicated to the music of Fela Kuti, and when Meshell formed her eclectic Spirit Music Jamia, she invited Blake, who was at that time a member of the Christian McBride Band, performing with Yerba Buena, and cultivating his own burgeoning solo career, to join. He willingly obliged, and later returned the favor by asking her to produce his second solo project for Mack Avenue, which is also Ndegeocello’s first full-length venture as a producer.

“Sonic Tonic” opens with an original composition, “Invocation,” a multi-textured piece that sets the stage for the expansive set that follows. Its somewhat chant-like tone is immediately offset by the spirited “Chasing the Sun,” which is propelled by Michael Cain’s radiant keyboards and supported by drummer Terreon Gully’s spirited beats. Given Blake’s touring schedule, it’s no wonder that “Chasing the Sun” was inspired by his experiences on the road. “When you’re traveling, no matter how gloomy the weather is or how stressful the working conditions, once you’re above the clouds it always seems so peaceful,” he says. “The sun is our source of energy and I wanted to capture how it feels to always be connected to that energy.” The following track, “Your Warm Embrace,” is so brief as to be merely a calming coda, easily capturing the sense of peace that accompanies a return home.

The first of “Sonic Tonic’s” three non-original tracks, Johnny Griffin’s “Dance of Passion,” is translated into a mysterious, hypnotic tapestry, with a pattern composed of saxophone, French horn, trombone and tuba woven over a vibrant background of percussion and drums, while the CD’s second cover, the classic “The Windmills of Your Mind,” takes the song’s familiar melody on a slow ride, with a spare arrangement that gently swings. “I wanted to create the dreamy, nostalgic mood of the song’s lyrics using only the melody,” explains Blake. “My solo is an open-ended vamp, and it’s brief, but it locks the song together.”

Blake says that the funky groove of “Shades of Brown” can be credited to drummer Terreon Gully’s contributions, which took the tune in an entirely different direction from its original conception as it evolved. That organic development also inspired the song’s title—“Meshell felt that it was earthy in nature, so the color brown came to mind,” continues Blake. The CD’s title track captures the essence of the project, at once effervescent and sensual, with funky riffs, initially introduced rhythmically, that come to be alternately delivered by Blake on tenor sax and David Gilmore on guitar. “All the music that we chose for the CD is there because it feels good, and ‘Sonic Tonic’ is a perfect expression of that ability to uplift you.”

“Tom Blake (Revisited)” revisits the song dedicated to his dad from Blake’s debut solo CD, with a new, vigorous arrangement. “The original version has more of a Latin feel because my fa