Johnathan Blake – Passage

  1. Lament For Lo
    (Johnathan Blake)
  2. Passage
    (John E. Blake Jr.)
  3. Muna & Johna’s Playtime
    (Johnathan Blake)
  4. Tiempos

(David Virelles)

  1. Groundhog Day
    (Johnathan Blake)
  2. Tears I Cannot Hide
    (Ralph Peterson Jr)
  3. A Slight Taste (Dez Intro)
    (Dezron Douglas)
  1. A Slight Taste
    (Dezron Douglas)
  1. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
    (Johnathan Blake)
  1. West Berkley St.
    (Johnathan Blake)


Johnathan Blake – drums, cymbals / Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone / Joel Ross: vibraphone / David Virelles: piano, keyboards, Rhodes / Dezron Douglas: acoustic bass guitar

Nach seinem Blue-Note-Records-Debüt „Homeward Bound“ (2021) kehrt Schlagzeuger, Komponist und Bandleader Johnathan Blake mit seinem Quintett Pentad zurück, bestehend aus Altsaxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, Vibraphonist Joel Ross, Keyboarder David Virelles und Bassist Dezron Douglas. Gewidmet hat Blake das Album diesmal seinem Vater John Blake Jr., einem Jazz-Violinisten, dessen mitreißende Komposition “Passage” dem Werk seinen Titel gibt.

Von NPR Music als „ultimativer Modernist“ bezeichnet, hat der in Philadelphia aufgewachsene Johnathan Blake mit Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Tom Harrell, Avishai Cohen, Chris Potter, Maria Schneider und vielen anderen zusammengearbeitet. DownBeat schrieb einmal: „Es ist ein Beweis für Blakes Fähigkeiten, dass er seine Anwesenheit in jedem Kontext spürbar macht.“

Vor seinen beiden Blue-Note-Alben unter eigenem Namen war Johnathan Blake in den letzten Jahren schon häufiger Alben anderer Blue-Note-Künstlern zu hören, darunter Dr. Lonnie Smiths „Breathe“ (2021), „All in My Mind“ (2018) und „Evolution“ (2016) und Kenny Barrons „Concentric Circles“ (2018), von dessen Trio Blake seit fast 15 Jahren ein wichtiges Mitglied ist.


Drummer and composer Johnathan Blake reconvenes his dynamic band Pentad for his sophomore Blue Note release Passage, a moving and poetic follow-up to his acclaimed 2021 label debut Homeward Bound. Featuring an intergenerational quintet comprised of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist David Virelles, and bassist Dezron Douglas, Passage captures the arc of personal and collective evolution: the passing from one moment to the next, from one phase into another. At the center of the album is Blake’s father and musical mentor, jazz violinist John Blake, Jr., who passed away in August 2014. His presence and influence emerge compositionally, spiritually, even vocally throughout the recording. “Passage picks up where Homeward Bound leaves off,” says Blake. “It’s a celebration of my father’s life and legacy.”

Passage provides listeners an intimate yet expansive gesture. Collective development gives space and resonance to their personal expressions. “Everyone in this band has a unique voice,” says Blake. “We‘ve matured as a band and individually, especially Joel and Immanuel; they have gained more experience over the years, so their playing has evolved, too. We trust each other even more, so we’re able to take more liberties with the music. We really have each other’s backs now.”

The album’s ten original tracks feature five of Blake’s own compositions in addition to contributions from Douglas, Virelles, Blake, Jr., and celebrated drummer and composer Ralph Peterson. The album opens with “Lament for Lo”; short and ruminative, the solo drum piece is a tribute to drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers that feels at once complete yet possesses a sense of yearning. “They say you gotta have one foot in the past and one in the present. This track was a way to do that.” Composed by Blake, Jr., the title track “Passage” captures the drummer’s late father’s musical personality as a reflection of the person he was and the life he lived. Orchestrating different sections, Blake spotlights tricky harmonic movement through the piece. Wilkins’ solo sets up the energetic duality for the entire record: poised yet relaxed, a quiet confidence. “Initially I was hesitant to include it on the album,” says Blake, “but it ended up feeling very natural for the entire band.”

Named for his children—now adolescents—“Muna & Johna’s Playtime” reveals the bandleader’s mastery of subtle changes over time. During lively trades between Wilkins and Virelles, Blake drives certain directional changes, all three engaging in the band’s signature interactivity. “It was nice to instigate a little,” says Blake. Flirting with the semblance of a fadeout, Blake opts to end the tune: “I thought about fading out, but I wanted it to end because it was a moment in time; now they’re at a different point in time, so I wanted that conclusion.”

Elements of tango, of New Orleans patterns, of old-world romance—Virelles’ “Tiempos” translates the complexity and simplicity of his expression. “He has a way of phrasing these sections that’s just perfect,” says Blake. “I wanted him to have that moment.” A true groove feature for Douglas, Blake’s “Groundhog Day” proffers a snaky melody line and plenty of room for nuance and dialogue. The track reflects a particular angle of band maturity as all five artists seem to breathe together across the vamp. The piece’s title evokes the repetitive days we all experienced during the 2020 lockdown: “Even though we were trapped inside, there was some kind of beauty in being able to be in one place for a while.”

Peterson’s “Tears I Cannot Hide” pays homage to the late drummer’s identity as a composer. The tune’s quiet intensity allows each artist to stretch their own expression and explore the music’s unfurling. Ross’ solo seems itself to build into Wilkins’ before Virelles enters the dynamic on Rhodes. “Ralph was a complex human, and those complexities manifest itself in his writing,” says Blake. “I love the way he utilizes the harmony in this tune. He overlaps the harmony voice with the lead voice. Joel and Immanuel understood his intention and energy immediately and made the necessary adjustments to blend their sounds even more.”

Blake considers Douglas’ “A Slight Taste” one of those “head rockers.” He says, “This music that we play is really a dance music.” Before digging into the tune, Douglas takes an expressive solo that serves as one of the more emotional and poignant moments of the entire record. “On this record, he really took it to another level,” says Blake. Prompted by Douglas to include “a real ballad,” Blake chose his own “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” Ross’ haunting intro sets the tone and provides a foundation to take space and give space. “I said, ‘Joel, play an intro,’ and we got it in one take,” says Blake. “It speaks volumes of these musicians who can come in and take what’s on the paper as a blueprint to tell a story.”

West Berkley St.” honors Blake’s father in a different way, including samples of his speaking voice in phone messages to Blake. A kind of tone poem, and feature for Virelles, the tune also serves as a nostalgic device. “My parents were both big fans of Motown,” says Blake, “so this song has that vibe.”

Passage presents the quintet at an elevated level of consciousness and artistry. A celebration of life and longing, the album pays tribute to those who have touched Blake’s life and shaped his music. And the best way for Blake to honor their spirits and preserve their legacy is to cultivate an interconnectedness among listeners and his fellow artists: “This record really shows the level of trust we’ve achieved together. Pentad is a brotherhood — five entities coming together to form one sound.”


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Universal Music Jazz (Deutsche Grammophon GmbH)

Stralauer Allee 1, 10245 Berlin

Blue Note / Universal Music

CD 00602448875624 / LP 00602448875648

VÖ: 11.08.2023

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