Oliver Lake is best known as a co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet; his punctuated lines of blues-y eighth notes contrasted with the longer, warmer lines of fellow altoist Julius Hemphill. Lake employs the same sound in his current group, Trio 3, featuring Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille. I saw them deliver a terrific show last month during New York's Winter Jazzfest with special guest Vijay Iyer on piano.
Lake was working with another top young pianist and veteran bassist Saturday night at Baltimore's Creative Alliance as he joined Lafayette Gilchrist and Michael Formanek in an equally wonderful show. Eric Kennedy was the drummer, and tenor saxophonist John Dierker turned the quartet into a quintet for the second set.
Gilchrist, who has often played with World Sax co-founder David Murray, proved a suitable foil for Lake. Displaying a side of his music that's quite different from the go-go-inflected sound he employs with his New Volcanoes, Gilchrist extended harmonies and splintered rhythms in the best avant-garde spirit of the World Sax Quartet and their colleagues. Gilchrist unveiled a major new composition, 'Blues for Our Marches To End (For Ferguson),' built around an ear-grabbing, Monk-like, four-bar piano figure that was soon joined by Formanek's bass ostinato and Lake's vamp in a joyful defiance of sorrow.
Lake also responded to recent events by reading his own poem about the late Amiri Baraka over piano-trio backing and then by playing a solo that lent an elegiac tone to his knotty phrasing. Formanek's powerful, unaccompanied bass solo at the end reinforced the feeling.
"A great man once told me," Lake said, "to be sure to give the drummer some." With that James Brown aphorism in the air, the rest of the band departed to leave Kennedy alone on stage behind his drum kit. He began with some beat-box scatting, some hambone, and some hand-slapping of the high-hat and tambourine over a kick-drum pulse. Only after two minutes of this, the quietest, most subtle, most surprising drum solo you'll ever hear, did he finally pick up his sticks.
Lake began and finished the long show with his own composition 'Flow,' which encouraged rumbling, rambling arpeggios over an impatient, surging pulse. For the reprise, Dierker's full-lunged half notes on the tenor contrasted nicely with Lake's signature sound of stabbing, darting eighth notes.
Formanek joins another noted alto saxophonist, Hemphill’s protégé Marty Ehrlich, for a duo concert at Bertha's Thursday, Feb. 26.