Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band marked its 20th anniversary in 2017 with the release of their sublime fifth album, Body and Shadow, a succinct nine-track meditation on lightness/darkness that arrived like a balm for the soul, ebbing and flowing with grace, subtlety and no shortness of beauty. Earlier this month, ArkivJazz spoke with the drummer about the unique sound and brevity of the Fellowship Band's new record.
ArkivJazz: Brian, your new disc is a unique combination of jazz instrumentation and Americana, with an almost gospel, small church sound…
Brian Blade: Yes, it comes from the roots but it’s also in the brevity of the album. It was as long as it needed to be. With every record we do, I leave as much room as needed for the players to be who they are. I don’t tell them how to play, because the music tells you what goes on. We have to keep listening to each other and it builds from there.
AJ: Tell me about working with pianist Jon Cowherd. He’s been an integral part of the Brotherhood for a long time and brings a unique voice to the band. I really enjoyed his solo harmonium piece midway through the new album…
BB: Jon and I have worked together for years. He’s a great player who writes and plays from a place of memory that is very deep and very observant. When he plays the pump organ solo piece, it’s like a step back in time. I’m proud of the music we’ve made together over the years. He brings himself fully to every living moment with every solo he plays.
AJ: This release has a very spiritual tone…very elemental. What was your focus preparing the new material?
BB: The songs reconcile where I was in my life. So much has happened recently, and those things take another kind of resonance. Life experiences grow with time, and I tried to reflect that in the sound of the music. The members of the band all felt it.
AJ: There’s certainly a hopeful aspect in this recording. An acknowledgement of the darkness and the redeeming lightness in everyone…
BB: Sometimes as a musician and a person, you make a negotiation between that part of you that’s a challenge to yourself and the part of you that pushes forward and we shine a light on.
There is a duality that exists in all of us. It’s a redeeming light that God shines….a grace, if you will.
AJ: I understand you had a lot of material prepared before entering the recording process. How did you choose the songs that ended up on the final recording? You narrowed it down to…maybe 30-35 minutes?
BB: It is a short CD! We recorded a lot of material, but it turned into a smaller, more focused thing. I’m listening for what is behind things, as we’re distilling feelings and focusing thoughts. Short songs can speak with the same power as long tunes. Think of what Charlie Parker said in 8 bars! We’re going to chew on that for 60 years or more. The pendulum swings wide – it’s an Ecclesiastic thing.