ALEX BLAKE QUARTET at Lee's Palace, July 29. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 70. Rating: NNN
you can count on one hand thenumber of jazz bassists who can single-handedly carry a show and still have room to twiddle their thumbs. Somewhere at the top of that short list would have to be New York bass beater Alex Blake.Before Sunday's set at Lee's Palace, you wouldn't have pegged the reserved, rail-thin gent lounging around the bar as someone who'd later almost pull the strings off his massive upright bass. As soon as Blake sat down on his stool and cradled his instrument into his chest, though, all hell broke loose.
Blake's short, intense career has already included stints with Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie and Eddie Palmieri, but it was in piano giant Randy Weston's African Rhythms ensemble that the bassist really defined himself. An explosively rhythmic player, Blake's characteristic style of slapping and strumming his instrument proved to be the perfect match for Weston's dynamic piano runs.
At Lee's, the match wasn't quite as spectacular, but Blake was Blake nonetheless.
Solo and with his quartet behind him, he strummed his instrument like a folk musician strums guitar, singing and humming to himself while he slapped the shellac off his bass. It all made the contributions of the rest of his quartet seem fairly elementary.
As competent as players like saxophonist Chris Hunter are, you really only put up with his cheesy David Sanborn squealing to hear another bass solo.
Blake should save himself some hotel bills and simply tour on his own.