The invigoratingly skilful drummer Brian Blade is famous as a cornerstone of Wayne Shorter’s all-but-clairvoyant quartet, but he’s also led his own gospel-rooted Fellowship group for 20 years. Characteristically, the band’s fifth album downplays improv in favour of expressive, songlike compositions within a jazz-infused ensemble sound – a chemistry that the drummer and his pianist and composing partner Jon Cowherd have made their own. Understatement mostly prevails, as in the warmly purring Within Everything, the hymn Have Thine Own Way, Lord played on a harmonium, or guitarist Dave Devine’s minimalist chord collages on the title track. But Cowherd’s Traveling Mercies mixes a beguiling sax theme and a startling countermelody, and the cruising Duality – underpinned by Blade’s unique brand of restless empathy at the drums – builds to a blazing soul-sax crescendo from excellent altoist Myron Walden. Running to little more than half an hour, this is an album of modestly reverential music by most jazz standards, but it’s none the less eloquent for that.
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3