Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oliver Lake and the gutbucket complexity lesson

The great composer and saxophonist Oliver Lake is coming back to St. Louis next month as part of the "BAG and Beyond" weekend, Sept. 12-14. I am fortunate to know Oliver somewhat through mutual friends, so he thought to reach out and get me a copy of an Oliver Lake Organ Trio CD that is so new I can't even find it on his website.

The record is called Makin' It, and this trio (Lake on alto, Jared Gold on Hammond B3 and Johnathan Blake on drums) is indeed makin' it. They are makin' grooves, time, and marvelous mischief throughout 10 compositions (seven by lake, two by the late Malachi Thompson, and one by some anonymous soul who wanted one day "to walk with Jesus" so bad he had to sing about it), ably produced by Oliver's son, Jahi Lake.

I have encountered this record over only one day of driving in St. Louis traffic, listening ecstatically while trying not to drive nobody down. What struck me instantly was how much of Lake's highly original melodic identity - which tends toward the exploratory and gravity-defying - survives intact on a groove record.

Lake released this record on his own Passin' Thru Records imprint, so must be considered the unaknowledged executive producer of the session (not that this musician, painter, poet, and performance artist needs me to concoct any new business titles for him!). I am thinking it must have been Lake who tabbed Greg Tate to write the liner notes. They are exquisitely in the spirit of the session (recorded on Sept. 11, 2006, by the way, almost two years to the date before "BAG and Beyond").

Tate writes that Lake's decision to tackle the rambunctious legacy of the organ trio "speaks volumes about his roots in St. Louis bistros of the '60s and '70s. Lake's prodigious career has taken him far in stylistic miles and cerebral scope from those sweaty and sanctified humble origins."

Tate later observes, so very wisely, that like Charlie Parker, "Lake has never thought intellect, emotional complexity, and gutbucket blues feeling comprised a musical oxymoron."

You can have intellect, emotional complexity, and gutbucket blues feeling all in one bucket: that is the take-home message from Makin' It by The Oliver Lake Organ Trio. This is the sort of take-home message that gets the bag a little sweaty on the way home from barbecue sauce of the most spiritually delicious variety.

My first teacher of this lesson (which we might call the gutbucket complexity lesson) was the great St. Louis poet K. Curtis Lyle. Curtis wrote a long piece for this week's St. Louis American about Oliver Jackson, the world-renowned artist from St. Louis, whose opening will kick off "BAG and Beyond" on Friday, Sept. 12.

"BAG and Beyond" will be held Sept. 12-14 at the Nu-Art Series' Metropolitan Gallery, 2936 Locust St.

The VIP champagne reception and exhibition opening for Jackson’s show will start Friday, September 12 at 5 p.m., with doors opening to the public (no charge) at 6 p.m. For tickets to the VIP reception (at $20), call 314-535-6500. The show will remain up through Oct. 10.

That Saturday afternoon (3-7 p.m.), Freddie Washington headlines a program that also features Marlin Bonds, Mike Nelson, Eugene B. Redmond, and Curtis.

Lake, Hamiett Bluiett and a larger cast of musicians and poets (including Quincy Troupe) will perform a Sunday (Sept. 14) matinee, 3-7 p.m.

For tickets or more information about Bag and Beyond, call 314-535-6500.


Crude sketch of Oliver Lake performing with the World Saxophone Quartet in St. Louis (2006) is by me and signed by Lake.

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