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Oliver Lake: From Bjork to Big Band

by Seth Colter Walls

Oliver Lake: From Bjork to Big Band

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As a founding member of the Black Artists Group and the World Saxophone Quartet, Oliver Lake has more than earned the title of legend. Less well known is the fact that he has collaborated with quite an elite crew of musicians outside the jazz world -- lending his arranging talents to Bjork's Debut, as well as records by Lou Reed and Meshell Ndegeocello.

That wide range of voices and styles seems to fit with all the varied ways that Lake makes music on his own: He switches from noisy skronk textures to pure blues ones with a showman's flair. And when he performs his own spoken-word poetry (which often draws from early hip-hop rhyme textures) -- as on the notable album Matador of 1st and 1st -- his awareness of and engagement with African American musical traditions feels utterly complete. (See "MTV Raps" for a particularly humorous and fiery demonstration of Lake's hip-hop-influenced poetry. And also the recent take of "Heavy Spirits," performed by Lake and a turntablist at New York club The Stone.)

Some of his greatest collaborators, like Julius Hemphill, have passed on by now, but Lake has hardly stopped innovating. In the first half of 2013 alone, he has been partly responsible for three exciting releases: His Trio 3 band put out a new album (featuring young gun Jason Moran on piano); another trio that counts Lake as a member also put out the album [All Decks] on the Intakt label; and now the Oliver Lake Big Band has come up with some fiery new Wheels. Hear cuts by all these bands -- and more -- in the appended playlist.

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