Tyler Blanton | Sense of Place

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Sense of Place

by Tyler Blanton

A diverse, cohesive set that encompasses a broad swath of the dialects that comprise the sound of 21st century jazz expression — which coincide with the eclectic predispositions of this yet-to-be-fully-recognized modern master.
Genre: Jazz: Post-Bop
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Oaty
3:48 $0.99
2. Doubitably
5:36 $0.99
3. Lennie's Pennies
4:35 $0.99
4. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
5:12 $0.99
5. Downcount
4:49 $0.99
6. Little Crumbs
6:21 $0.99
7. Fuggedaboutit Blues
3:01 $0.99
8. My Ideal
6:43 $0.99
9. Present Tense
4:43 $0.99
10. Sycamore Waltz (feat. Jon Cowherd)
4:33 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Following the path taken over the years by so many gifted jazz musicians seeking creative growth through interacting with the best and brightest of their fellow practitioners, Tyler Blanton, born and raised in California, moved to New York in 2007. Twelve years later, having taken the challenge head-on, the 38-year-old vibraphonist is a first-caller on New York’s vibrant, virtuosic, panoramic scene.

That hard-won rootedness is one reason why Sense of Place is an apropos title for Blanton’s third leader album. Another reason is Blanton’s sure-footedness, the effortless mastery he displays while navigating the ten tunes that comprise this inspired recital, which showcases his impeccable four-mallet technique, authoritative harmonic knowledge, abiding lyricism, open-mindedness, and abiding will to swing. The title also denotes Blanton’s deep assimilation of the jazz timeline, reflected in the individualistic voice he’s sculpted from vocabulary culled and refracted from such master antecedent vibraphonists as Gary Burton, Mike Mainieri, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Steve Nelson.

The acoustic ambiance projected herein by Blanton and his New York A-list partners tilts more to the orientation of hlis 2010 debut, Botanic (“straight-ahead, bebop-influenced, not a lot of overly complex or super-modern tunes”) than its 2013 followup, Gotham, on which luminaries like tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Nate Wood fleshed out and inhabited pieces marked by evocative electronic soundscapes and much metric modulation. But the contents reflect Blanton’s comprehensive scope.

“I’m eclectic,” Blanton says. “In the jazz world, it’s easy to be compartmentalized. Someone hears you play a blues with a tipping rhythm section, and pegs them as a bebopper, or hears you play a backbeat thing or Brazilian thing, and thinks of you as someone who does that. On Sense of Place, I’m working with elements of all these things I love, and that’s what becomes my voice.”

“The way I like to play vibes involves a certain lineage that I feel is not now in the limelight in the jazz world,” Blanton continues. “That’s a four-mallet contextual approach where you’re accountable for the harmony, for your sense of touch and texture, and for a large part of the group sound.”

Five tracks with Jon Cowherd — whose c.v. includes consequential employment with Brian Blade, Cassandra Wilson, Alicia Olatuja, and Nate Smith’s Kinfolk — mark Blanton’s first recorded encounter with a pianist. “Piano is tricky with vibraphone,” Blanton says. “The piano has a larger overtone range, can dominate more harmonic space. On the other hand, it can be a beautiful blend when you double melodies and interact — but it takes a pianist who’s tuned into that and is willing to give you that space. That’s Jon.”

Blanton states that “with four mallets, you don’t get the projection you can have with two, where you can dig in and put your body weight into it.” In recruiting bassist Drew Gress and drummer Johnathan Blake, he ensured that nuance and dynamics — and a flexible palette of musical colors — would permeate the collective flow throughout.

“I can play with a lot of musicians who I know will give me exactly what I want — I can steer the ship 100%,” Blanton says. “This rhythm section does this at times, but they also push me out of my comfort zone enough that I surprise myself. I can’t just call the shots. I can have a real-time relationship and be vulnerable. Maybe what’s most different about this album from the previous two is that I put myself in a position to be much more exposed and vulnerable.”

As eloquent when playing “inside” with Fred Hersch as “outside” with Tim Berne, Gress, as Blanton notes, “has developed a personal and artistic approach to playing standards — he knows how to play the jazz language and propel the band and swing in a deep sense.” Blanton praises Blake’s “amazing swing,” the elegant feel, kinetic groove and “loose, interactive” quality the 40-ish drum superstar imparts to a wide array of beats. “Johnathan never smothers the band,” he says. “He’ll follow me, but when it’s time to take care of business and dig into the pocket and swing, he’s got that, too.”

As a child in Ojai, California, Blanton ingested the swing feel through the example of his maternal grandfather, a construction worker by day, a big band tenor saxophonist at night, who idolized Charlie Parker and Ben Webster. He gravitated to the drums, which he played in rock bands, funk bands and jam bands; in high school he studied tuned percussion before discovering the vibes. His initial heroes were Burton and Mainieri, “for whom the vibes were an ocean; you’d hear them front and center to the music, crystal clear, providing harmony for the whole album.”

He continues: “Gary opened up a huge body of styles across the board. He showed that the vibraphone can work great in tango, in duo with guitar or piano, in quartet doing straight-ahead things or arranged things. I associate myself with that lineage of the instrument.”

Blanton attended Sonoma State University, where he studied with guitarist Randy Vincent, who hired him for standards gigs in the Bay Area. “It was an extremely hands-off education,” he says. “I wasn’t in the classroom doing projects. I’d take a lesson, learn a tune, and play it on the gig that night. In a way, this album is the first time I’ve actually gone back to my roots of playing standards on a record.”

During these years, Blanton listened intensely to vibraphone heroes Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. “To this day, Milt Jackson is the vibraphonist whose language I’ve transcribed most,” Blanton says. “What drew me to him was the lyricism, how he could make the vibes sing, his delivery of melodies, the fluidity of his lines, a sense of legato and flow.

“I heard Bobby several times in the Bay Area, and it was mindblowing. It was how I imagined the experience of hearing Miles Davis play — transcendent, where he’d speak through the instrument and cast a spell. I admired his chance-taking, how he’d lead the band where he wanted. You never knew what he was going to do.”

A few years after graduating, Blanton decided to move to New York. “I started from the ground up, and scuffled for a long time,” he says. “Starting from scratch, I could reinvent myself. I could decide what I was here to do, who I wanted to associate with. I tested the water in different cliques, did a little of everything, but didn’t immerse completely in or identify with any one scene. Each one has things I like and things I don’t — I’m eclectic.”

The trio’s fluidity and savoir faire comes through on “Oaty,” a vertiginously asymmetrical line with a broken-time swing feel on which Blanton uncorks a slippery, highly melodic solo. Then Cowherd enters the mix on “Doubitably,” “a simple melody with an unusual form that I knew would be great with Jon because he has a way of getting simple melodies to sing on top of the band.”

Blanton and Cowherd engage contrapuntally on a swinging, locked-in reading of Lennie Tristano’s “Pennies From Heaven” contrafact, “Lennie’s Pennies,” to which the leader added a 4-bar tag to the form. “I’ve learned a fair amount Lennie’s and Lee Konitz’s language, and I love it,” says Blanton, who cites Konitz as a huge influence for “getting things to sing over the barline, coming in at unusual places, and being able to play a simple melody and have it come across as brilliant and not pedantic.” He continues: “I don’t consider myself of that school, but it’s part of my identity.”

There follows a gorgeous, poignant reading of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” “I’ve played it forever,” Blanton says. “It’s usually in F, but I raised the key to G, which is a bit brighter. That’s for sonic reasons (so many jazz albums are all in B-flat or F or E-flat), but also it pushes me out of my comfort zone.”

The ambiance transitions from heart-on-the-sleeve balladry to cyborg throwdown on “Downcount,” a contrafact of John Coltrane’s “Countdown.” “I love to play with a hard-hitting rhythm section, and Johnathan does it so well that it pushes me to do that at a higher level,” Blanton says. Blake’s rolling triplet beats propel a Bobby Hutcherson-esque solo on “Fuggedaboutit Blues,” which Blanton analogizes to Coltrane’s “Mr. Day.” “When I think of playing a blues, I think of Coltrane — on albums like Bags and Trane, the aesthetic is a mix of things that are burning, or lyrical, or just vulnerable, asymmetric, weird. There are squawks and awkward moments, and it’s very organic.”

Sandwiched between these Coltrane homages is a through-composed original, “Little Crumbs,” which includes a unison soli by Blanton and Cowherd on Fender Rhodes. Then Blanton conjures a jaunty, sparkling four-mallet solo on “My Ideal,” played trio with Blake on brushes. He transitions to a whirlwind line titled “Present Tense,” tearing through the metrically modulated form, then stating a percolating vamp that supports Blake’s powerful solo. The recital ends on a wistful-yet-optimistic note with “Sycamore Waltz,” a ravishingly melodic duo with Cowherd on which the protagonists fully explore the tune’s harmonic implications.

Thus concludes a diverse, cohesive set that encompasses a broad swath of the dialects that comprise the sound of 21st century jazz expression — which coincide with the eclectic predispositions of this yet-to-be-fully-recognized modern master. Sense of Place ought to be an important step in spreading the word.



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