Blake Quartet to kick off concert series

John Blake is deeply rooted in the rich tradition of jazz violin, yet has also developed his own unique style and voice when touring and recording. A native of Philadelphia, where he continues to perform and teach, Blake has a diverse and accomplished background in the idiom.

Having studied jazz violin in the U.S. and Europe and having traveled on a grant to investigate East Indian music, Blake continues both to challenge and enrich the repertoire as a composer, performer, producer, recording artist, teacher, lecturer and author.

Blake first became recognized on the scene in the mid-’70s when he played as a leading sideman with tenorist Grover Washington, Jr. in what was conceived as a jazz “crossover” group.

After three years with Washington, Blake joined up with legendary pianist and composer McCoy Tyner, whose unique and advanced style of improvisation and jazz composition undoubtedly left a huge imprint on Blake’s own musical vocabulary.

Blake went solo in the ’80s, recording a series of five critically acclaimed albums on the Gramavision label, before switching over to Sunnyside in 1992 and then releasing his latest CD, Kindred Spirits, in 2000 with Spirit records.

His recording career has featured a wide variety of styles and ensembles, a testament to Blake’s remarkable versatility and ever-evolving musical imagination. His third album, Rhythm and Blu, showcased him dueling with two other top violinists (Didier Lockwood and Michal Urbaniak) on a mix of funky and straight-ahead tunes. Kindred Spirits, on the other hand, has Blake joined only by pianist Suni Tonooka, with whom he cleverly plays off to create an album full of warm, soulful solo passages and reharmonizations of several classic bop and post-bop standards.

Throughout his two-decade-long solo career, however, Blake has continued to perform as a sideman with some of the top ensembles around, including the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Billy Taylor Trio and the Steve Turre Sextet, as well as playing a short stint with Williams’ own Andy Jaffe and his sextet. He also loves to teach and work with young artists to develop their skills as jazz string players, devoting much time each year to a variety of workshops and seminars on his instrument and its particular legacy in the art form.

Blake’s latest project is a quartet with his son Jonathan on drums, Boris Koslov on bass and Dave Posmontier on piano. At his concert tomorrow night, Avery Sharpe – a regular in McCoy Tyner’s band – will be filling in for Koslov and Butch Reed will be filling in on drums.

The program should feature Blake at his best, working his way through a variety of musical and improvisatory styles ranging from bop to jazz-funk, performing a combination of standards and originals while working tightly with his ensemble. Blake’s playing always displays a fresh and distinctive mix of old and new, drawing from a wealth of backgrounds and musical resources.

A lyrical and daring improviser when onstage with a tight and widely accomplished rhythm section, Blake is sure to dazzle his audience with a rich and wonderfully varied program on Wednesday evening at the Clark Art Institute.