Saxophonist and composer Ron Blake releases his first album as a leader in fifteen years with Mistaken Identity, a tight quartet recording featuring his longtime friend, the guitarist Bobby Broom along with bassists Nat Reeves or Reuben Rogers and drummer Kobie Watkins. As you may recall we covered Broom’s 2022 Keyed Up on these pages almost exactly a year ago. The album title likely traces to this quote from Bobby Broom that Blake “suffers from a case of mistaken identity because he is underrepresented as the leading tenor saxophone stylist that he is.” Blake is best known for his near 20-year stint in the Saturday Night Live Band and ensembles led by Christian McBride where he earned three Grammy awards. With this album and the recently unearthed Roy Hargrove’s Love Suite: In Mahogany: Live at Lincoln Center where Blake rips into a Paul Gonsalves-like Ellingtonian solo in the last movement, deserved attention should be moving Blake’s way.
This is a warm album with its focal point centered on the interplay between Blake and Broom. Each note is delivered with care, nothing seems hurried, and the emphasis is on lyricism as opposed to dazzling techniques. The nine tracks contain both originals and tracks from other artists that have deeply influenced Blake. They begin with slow burning Duke Pearson tune “Is That So?” with the two friends interspersing their lines until Blake goes deep, Ben Webster-like, in the lower registers to Broom’s timely comping. The tempo builds and the quartet is swinging comfortably two minutes in. Broom constructs his solo similarly and between the two, every facet of both the melody and harmony is explored. The reading of Sonny Rollins’ “Allison” is in its greatest moments, an excellent example of Blake and Broom playing so beautifully in unison, not to diminish Blake’s highly lyrical solo where he reaches all aspects of his horn. Broom follows with expressive fluid cascading runs before the lovely unison passages ensue once more.
Blake takes his lyricism to another level on Johnny Griffin’s ballad, “When We Were One,” exposing every nuance of the gorgeous melody with Broom adding a brief but elegant touch as Reeves and Watkins provide the subtle but vital support. More musical sympatico reveals itself on Broom’s “No Hype Blues,” a tune the two played in the ‘90s and revisited for this session. The two Blake originals follow with “Beyond Yesterday’s Tomorrows” built on two-chord vamp as the foundation for post-bop excursions from the saxophonist and guitarist while “Grace Ann” is a delectable ballad rendered on a robust but clearly toned baritone sax rendered as a duet with bassist Rogers.
Benny Golson’s oft-covered “Stablemates” gets the requisite swinging treatment and as Blake and Broom dart in and out, weaving their lines as if engaged in an enraptured dance with each soloing expressively. The Rogers-penned “To Be” proves the perfect melodic vehicle for Blake’s tenor while Broom’s solo seems rather teasing, seemingly taking us in another direction, only to return, yet the two paths find common ground, converging beautifully. Blake returns to the baritone for the title track, a nod to his Virgin Island roots, along with Rogers and the composer, steel pan artist Victor Provost. The calypso beat that jazz fans associate with Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” lies at the heart of the tune, and it seems only appropriate that Blake goes out honoring not only his roots but his mentor, Rollins, one more time.
There’s no mistaking Blake’s immense talent in this effort. As the musicians say, ‘his chops are up, big time.”
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