Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside Records)

Michael Blake

Released October 28, 2014

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review






Often musicians find it refreshing to look back to past styles and masters to stimulate their creativity. This enables listeners to hear the true breadth of a musician’s artistry, from their most contemporary developments to their knowledge of the “tradition,” which is so important in jazz.
The New York City based saxophonist Michael Blake has built his reputation by producing albums that “make the familiar sound fresh” (Jim Macnie, Downbeat). That statement couldn’t apply better than to Blake’s new release, Tiddy Boom, his nod to the magnificent tenor saxophone innovators Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.
Recorded in January 2014 and set for release on Sunnyside Records (October 28th, 2014), the session sounds like a classic recording date from the 1950s or 1960s. Tiddy Boom reunites Blake with two of his former Jazz Composers Collective colleagues, bassist Ben Allison and pianist Frank Kimbrough, who, along drummer Rudy Royston, provide effortless support for Blake’s tenor sax to flow in any direction he chooses on his program of all original compositions.
As Blake puts it, “I wrote these tunes with my friends in mind. They are swinging and melodic pieces that revere the type of spirit inherent to jazz that drew me into the music. But what I think gives Tiddy Boom that classic jazz sound is a combination of several things: First and foremost is the passion we all share for this music and the respect we have for the musicians that created it. On top of that is the trust we have in each other, a camaraderie that comes from being on the road together and years of hacking it out in NYC. In that regard we continue to walk in the footprints of the giants.”
The title references Lester ‘Pres’ Young (1909-1959), who had a vernacular all his own. Some of his infamous words include the invention of crib for apartment, Lady, as in Lady Day (Billie Holiday), and the word cool. While watching an old video of Pres, Blake picked up on him requesting the drummer to give him, “little tickity boom, please,” which has since evolved into Tiddy Boom.
Blake has been known for producing contemporary jazz albums, often using world music influenced grooves, electronic tinges and avant-garde elements but always ripe with an underlying rhythmic sensibility. What sets this recording apart from his other work is that Tiddy Boom is all about the tenor saxophone.
“Last year I received Chamber Music America’s 2013 New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation commissioning me to write a new work entitled Contrasts in Individualism. The compositions reflect on the stylistic innovations of Hawkins and Young that gave birth to modern jazz by peering at their concepts through a contemporary lens. I am now an artist in mid-career and I felt this commission brought with it an important opportunity for me to find my own identity as a tenor saxophonist.”
The recording begins with the sly blues of “Skinny Dip,” a coy piece with wide dynamic shifts. The title track is an uptempo swinger with a liquid melody and features Royston’s wonderful drum work and Blake’s warm tone. “Hawk’s Last Rumba” slows the pace with passionate ballad with drippingly led by a resonant duo between tenor and Kimbrough’s piano, later stirred by the supportive bass and drums. The charging “Boogaloop” features the ensemble in full force with Allison’s driving bass over a rhythmic monster with tricky stops and starts.
The knotty “Coastline” is perfectly suited for the deft hands of Blake and Kimbrough while rhapsodic “Letters In Disguise” begins impressionistically and builds into a bright and wonderfully swinging ensemble workout. “A Good Day For Pres” is prancing tune balancing a strong Kansas City swing with a funky New Orleans rhythm, all with a tremendous dialogs between band members, especially that between Blake and Allison. The recording concludes with “The Ambassadors,” a praiseworthy gospel inflected tune that is a perfectly uplifting coda to the program.
There is no better tribute for another artist than to utilize lessons learned from and spin them into something original. Michael Blake has reached back to his musical forefathers, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, to create a recording in Tiddy Boom that looks forward yet feels classic. 

Track Listing:

1. Skinny Dip (Michael Blake) 04:59

2. Tiddy Boom (Michael Blake) 05:33

3. Hawk’s Last Rumba (Michael Blake) 06:19

4. Boogaloop (Michael Blake) 03:35

5. Coastline (Michael Blake) 03:32

6. Letters In Disguise (Michael Blake) 09:29

7. A Good Day For Pres (Michael Blake) 05:49

8. The Ambassadors (Michael Blake)


Michael Blake: tenor saxophone
Frank Kimbrough: piano
Ben Allison: bass
Rudy Royston: drums

Recorded January 18, 2014, at Tedesco Studio

Engineer: Tom Tedesco

Mixing: Teddy Kumpel

Mastering: Michael Fossenkemper

Photography: Christopher Drukker

Producer: Michael Blake

Executive Producer: François Zalacain


With composition titles that allude to both Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, saxophonist Michael Blake signals that he is reaching back six decades and more for inspiration on Tiddy Boom, while the presence of fellow modernists— and members of the Jazz Composers Collective— pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison lets listeners know this will not be a mere nostalgia trip. Instead, it is more like a quick spin on a funhouse ride, with Blake’s tenor burbling and barking out references to past masters while remaining firmly planted in the present. Just listen to the 80-second solo coda on the title track: a roller coaster of slithery asides, roaring exclamations and raucous squawks, all delivered with authority and wit. On “Hawk’s Last Rumba,” he rolls the slow, sultry, grainy sound of his horn around like good whiskey on the tongue. The risk with high-concept projects like this is that not every player will be equally engaged, or that the idea of dipping into the deep past will come off sounding stale or ironic. Those dangers are never realized here. This is a quartet that sounds like it is operating with one mind; witness the boppish unison head and tight drumsbass hookup on “Coastline” or the way that Kimbrough’s rollicking piano break on “Letters In Disguise” gives way seamlessly to Blake’s tenor solo. On “A Good Day For Pres,” Rudy Royston hints at a second-line rhythm in his rolls, but the focus remains on a stunningly gorgeous duet between Blake and Allison, and the beauty of the saxophonist’s tone. In places like the gospel-inflected “The Ambassadors” and the aptly titled “Boogaloop,” the years fall away, and it is clear that this is music unbound in time—as fresh-sounding today as it might have been in the ’50s. The frugal consumer might flinch at the sub50-minute timing of Tiddy Boom, but with a package that sounds this perfectly executed, that seems banal.

James Hale (DownBeat)