Brian Blade and I met in 1995 at Kevin Hays’ apartment on Carroll street in Brooklyn. We made some sessions there, often with Seamus Blake on saxophone. These sessions were afternoon affairs, where we would try out various compositions and stretch out!
At some point Kevin called me and asked if I would like to play on his first Blue Note record with Brian on drums. Also onboard were Seamus on Saxophone and Steve Nelson on vibes. I dropped the phone and fell on the floor before I could say yes.
Needless to say it was a great moment for me, especially knowing that Brian was making it. Those sessions had been fun…serious fun…and I wanted more.
A link to this CD may be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Seventh-Sense-Kevin-Hays/dp/B000008MPD
After that time I would run into Brian around New York, or we would play a few little gigs together, but eventually he got busy (real busy) with Josh Redman’s ‘Moodswing’ band, and I began my association with Al Foster.
I sensed that we both had a mission, and I knew that we would compare notes on the band stand, at a later date.
I once met Brian at Visiones, a club that used to exist on West 3rd Street down the block from the Blue Note. I said “Hey Brian, whats going on?” to which he replied “things happen for a reason”.
For some reason, I didn’t see much of him after that! He had moved to Woodstock, then Nyack, then rumored to be living in Europe, but basically he was on the road.
Starting in 2002 we began playing again, in a formation which featured Brian’s right hand man Jon Cowherd at the piano, Myron Walden on woodwinds, Monte Croft at the vibes, and John Hart on guitar.
We would meet at Smalls Jazz Club on West 10th street at around 4pm, rehearse for a few hours, then play. These were transcendent experiences for the band and the audience. A few other gigs happened with that band, most notably Newport Jazz Festival, and then we went on hiatus.
Brian had joined the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and between that and his band the Fellowship, there just was not time for another project.
In 2003 an opportunity arose for us to work together again. Brian and Jon had been hired to co-produce a record for vocalist and composer Lizz Wright. Brian asked me to come to some rehearsals that were scheduled in New York, and was apologetic in that I would only be the rehearsal bassist. “Oh well”, I thought, (in the words of the great Eddie Henderson) “If you can’t ride the horse, ride the mule”.
After the first rehearsal I was a little blue. Lizz’ voice and vibe were fantastic, and the chemistry with Jon and Brian was giving me that old feeling again, that something special was happening.
I arrived home to a voice message from Brian saying ” I feel like we should play, so I’m gonna see what I can do,” What he did, was to insist that I play on the record. The results may be heard by clicking the link below.
What does it feel like to play with Brian? Well, you feel completely supported, and the dynamic range of the music is extreme. The density and texture is always tasteful, there is a combination of extreme care and complete joyful abandon in his playing.
He is confident of his abilities enough to not doubt them on the stage, but it’s never just about him, or the drums. Often times the drum solo on a concert might be the quietest part of the show. He allows the channel to open, and his gift is to be able to help others arrive there too.
We recently recorded an album with the old Smalls band, now called ‘Lifecycles’, with the addition of Rogerio Boccato on percussion. The project is in tribute to Bobby Hutcherson, with whom Brain worked, and is a complete reading of the 1969 album “Now”, which was in itself a tribute to bassist Albert Stinson. I’ve only heard 1 cut so far, but suffice to say that it’s one of the best things I’ve been part of.
Brian makes the audience and band members feel that they are the most important thing to him, in that given moment. This may be the real gift; his faith that he was put on this earth for a reason, and that reason is to funkify our lives with the most beautiful human expression of music.