Elevated (Knitting Factory Records)

Michael Blake

Released July 1, 2001

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2001

All About Jazz The Most Exciting Jazz Albums Since 1969





Canadian-born, New York-based saxophonist Michael Blake is a distinctive presence on the modern creative jazz scene whose style bridges avant-garde, post-bop, and global traditions. A member of N.Y.C.’s groundbreaking the Lounge Lizards ensemble, Blake emerged in the ’90s and has played with a variety of eclectic artists, including Steven Bernstein, Ben Allison, Charlie Hunter, Stereo MC’s, Michael Leonhart, and Erik Friedlander, among others. His own albums have showcased his broad, globally minded perspective. He explored Vietnamese traditions on 1991’s Kingdom of Champa, and has built upon the work of artists like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane on albums like 2005’s Right Before Your Very Ears, 2012’s In the Grand Scheme of Things, and 2023’s folk- and Afro-Brazilian-influenced Dance of the Mystic Bliss.

Born in 1964 in Montreal, Canada, Blake spent his adolescence living in Toronto and San Francisco before his family settled in Vancouver. It was in the latter, at age 14, that he started playing the clarinet before moving to the tenor saxophone. He excelled throughout his teens, studying privately with noted reedist David Branter. After high school, he enrolled at Vancouver Community College, where he spent a year before earning a scholarship to the Courtenay Music Center. He began playing jazz locally, mentored by trombonist, pianist, and composer Hugh Fraser.

During the mid-’80s, he participated in the Banff School of Fine Arts Jazz Workshop where he worked with luminaries including bassist Dave Holland, pianist Cecil Taylor, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and more. In 1986, he earned a grant from The Canada Council for the Arts to study with saxophonist David Liebman in New York City. He returned to Vancouver at the end of his year away and led his own quartet, which competed at the Alcan Jazz Competition.

By 1987, the then-23-year-old Blake had returned to N.Y.C., playing in merengue bands as well as backing a variety of artists from Chubby Checker to Jack McDuff. In 1990, John Lurie heard him playing at a downtown club and six months later, Blake joined the Lounge Lizards. He appeared on both volumes of the group’s Live in Berlin recordings, as well as on the 1998 studio album Queen of All Ears.

As a leader, Blake debuted with 1997’s Kingdom of Champa, on Intuition. Produced by Teo Macero, it found him incorporating Vietnamese music influences into a jazz album featuring other downtown New York greats, including Thomas Chapin and Steven Bernstein. During this period, he played on Lurie’s score for the movie Get Shorty, and began a long creative association with bassist Ben Allison.

A second Intuition album, Drift, arrived in 2001 and featured a small group with guitarist Tony Scherr, pianist Frank Kimbrough, and others. That was followed by 2002’s Elevated, which again found him working with bassist Allison, pianist Kimbrough, and drummer Mike Mazor.

Track Listing:

1. In the Arms of Ali (Michael Blake) 04:30

2. Surfing Sahara (Michael Blake) 04:43

3. Elevated (Michael Blake) 06:28

4. Addis Ababa (Michael Blake) 04:02

5. Merle the Pearl (Michael Blake) 03:41

6. Calypso Minor (Abdullah Ibrahim) 05:21

7. Lucky Charms (Michael Blake) 05:35

8. Anthem for No Country (Michael Blake) 05:30

9. New Blues, Old News (Michael Blake) 03:18


Michael Blake: tenor and soprano saxophone
Frank Kimbrough: piano
Ben Allison: bass
Mike Mazor: drums

Recorded at Current Sounds NYC on July 6, 2000, by Katherine Miller
Mixed by Scott Harding (aka Scotty Hard)
Mastered by Mike Fossenkemper (Turtle Tone Studios)
Produced by Michael Blake
Cover photo by Daniel Blaufuks


This 2002 release marks New York City-based saxophonist Michael Blake’s third solo effort. On this outing, the artist enlists fellow Jazz Composers Collective instrumentalists bassist Ben Allison, pianist Frank Kimbrough, and drummer Mike Mazor. Unsurprisingly, Blake continues to complement his already estimable legacy, with this wondrously gorgeous follow-up to the large-ensemble recording Drift. Whether performing on tenor or soprano saxophones, Blake inadvertently reemphasizes his status as an emerging stylist who possesses a warm and sometimes whispery tone. On the opener, “In the Arms of Ali,” Kimbrough states a lower-register ostinato for what could seem like a hard rock motif. Here, Blake’s meditative soprano sax lines cast an organic feel and spiritual aura atop his associates’ intricately devised modalities. The quartet seemingly reworks the familiar bassline of John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” into a laid-back groove, further enhanced by Blake’s robust choruses and R&B-style musings. This altogether divergent program also features a funk-tinged blues number along with some gospel elements amid climactic opuses and the soloists’ exquisite exchanges. No doubt, Elevated should finds its way onto quite a few Top Ten lists for 2002. Strongly recommended.

Glenn Astarita (AllMusic)