Brian Blade Fellowship Band – 4:00 pm – Garden Stage
As heard from the rear of a standing-room only crowd, Brian Blade’s drumming is a soft murmur, nearly inaudible save for some scattered bass hits as Blade, mallets flying, beats out a low, complex rhythm. But suddenly there’s an explosion, a colorful burst of energy which Blade’s Fellowship quintet now rides with a deliberate, sober resolution.
It’s part of a pattern that recurs throughout the set, a delicate balance of wheels within wheels. Pianist Jon Cowherd, facing the leader, issues a fluid stream of phrases which crest and tumble back into the ensemble’s deep, eddying waters. Saxophonists Melvin Butler and Myron Walden — the former in sunlight, the latter in shade — converge for aching duo statements and drift apart for contemplative solos, back and forth like breath, their curving trajectories lighting out and arcing slowly home.
Throughout, there is a sense of spirit guided by solemn purpose, a gathering power that surges upward and ends somewhere beyond the scattering clouds.
And yet, despite this poetic profundity, something is missing. Perhaps the experience is different closer to the stage, but from back here the outdoor acoustics seem completely inadequate to the performance. The details of Blade’s drumming are lost to the open air. Cowherd’s piano resonates with the speakers, creating a tinny sound. Bassist Chris Thomas sounds like a mere suggestion, far in the back of the mix. And planes, taking off from the nearby airport, shatter the mood every few minutes. That Blade’s group can convey so much through so many obstacles is a testament to the simple power of its message.