The fourth album from the Fellowship Band, Landmarks, arrives later this year, five years after the outfit’s last disc. Chalk up the gap to bandleader Brian Blade and his busy schedule. One of the most in-demand drummers both in the jazz world and beyond, the Louisiana native can be seen playing behind everyone from sax titan Wayne Shorter to super producer Daniel Lanois, whose Black Dub project brought Blade through town recently. And while the consummate sideman takes top billing in the Fellowship, he does so with some reluctance—he considers the quintet a collective, hence the group’s name.
That means this isn’t a drummer’s showcase, at least on recordings. Live is a different story. A Fellowship gig at the 2010 Chicago Jazz Festival saw Blade careening into his kit, sending explosive accents and thundering rolls rippling through the otherwise serene mood that this band specializes in sustaining.
Landmarks, which marks the group’s return to Blue Note and includes a cameo from Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, aims to capture that simmering chemistry. Pianist Jon Cowherd trickles dour chords throughout the somber title track, and the undulating textures of “Ark-LA-Tex,” named for the intersection of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas where the album was recorded (Shreveport, Louisiana, to be specific), revolve around Melvin Butler and Myron Walden’s twin reedwork. Blade’s elegant touch centers all of it, even if those splashy fills necessitate his name preceding the band’s.