Bop Shop Records presents:
THE MICHAEL BATES TRIO
Michael Blake – Tenor
Michael Bates – bass and
Jeremy Bean Clemons – drums
Sunday, June 11 8pm
Bop Shop Records 1460 Monroe Ave, Rochester NY
$15 door/ $10 students
Michael Bates opens his new album, “Northern Spy,” with a bass solo, which usually isn’t the smartest move out of the gate, not even for a bassist with his deep-twang, broad-shouldered sound. But that solo, on an invocation called “Theme for a Blind Man,” grabs the ear from Note 1: trudging with a dirgelike deliberation, front and center in the mix, against a background hum that calls to mind the rural South.
The track bears no dedication, but in mood and substance it evokes Blind Willie Johnson, one of a handful of touchstones for “Northern Spy.” Mr. Bates — who has recently worked to intriguing effect with chamber-jazz dynamics, notably on an album of retooled Shostakovich — shifts his focus here toward a more direct and sanctified ideal, claiming affinities not only with Johnson but also with Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding.
Because the album features a tenor saxophone trio, with Michael Blake on tenor and Jeremy Clemons, known as Bean, on drums, it’s also inevitably entangled with a jazz legacy stretching as far back as Sonny Rollins in 1957. Mr. Bates plays into this expectation a bit: “Roxy” borrows the 16-bar form of Mr. Rollins’s “Doxy,” giving Mr. Blake an open lane for his garrulous cogency as a soloist. A lone songbook standard, “Days of Wine and Roses,” builds on a similar frame of reference, with sparse elegance.
Where “Northern Spy” begins to feel more distinctive is on tracks like “An Otis Theme on Curtis Changes,” an imploring gospel ballad that sprawls more than nine minutes, with successive waves of crescendo; the title track, which cribs the vaulting sensation of a rock anthem; and “Essex House,” which suggests an old burlesque shuffle, with a touch of humor that never tips over into camp.
Mr. Blake has honed an old-fashioned but nonregressive style on tenor — for more in that vein, see his album “Tiddy Boom,” released on Sunnyside last fall — and he brings the full weight of his charisma. But there’s a compelling sense of equal stake in this trio, which appears on Saturday at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn. It’s no more a tenor showcase than it is a solo vehicle for Mr. Bates, who knows how to lead from behind. NATE CHINEN