This is different story of Two Michaels, in a much happier context. All tracks here were composed and performed by Vancouverite-in-New York saxophonist/flutist Michael Blake to meld his distinctive Jazz lines with input from a three-person Brazilian percussion section. The tunes also feature a four-person string section, including fellow Canadian expat bassist Michael Bates.
Consciously avoiding exoticism for its own sake, despite the use of such ethnic instruments as cajón, pandeiro, zabumba drum and berimbau, the music is anchored by a fluid rhythmic emphasis including Bates’ steadying pumps. Sometimes the strings are harmonized with the inflated percussion crunches. At other times, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro projects buzzing rock-like flanges; violinist Skye Steele or cellist Chris Hoffman produces sweeping blues emphasis or Europeanized lyricism; and Blake pivots from double-tongued saxophone stops and slurs to horizontal flute peeps that are in turn, pointed, polished and powerful.
Because of the repeated drum thumps and staccato string shake, tracks like Sagra suggest a South American hoedown. But segmented reed stops and scoops retain a sophisticated improvisational emphasis. Others, such as Little Demons mate mid-point arching guitar frails with penetrating saxophone split tones and staccato string section shakes for stop-time variations.
Conceived as an homage to his late mother, who was both a dancer and a gardener, Blake’s Dance of the Mystic Bliss appropriately presents musical textures that have elements of both sprouting and syncopation.