Oliver Lake may be the most well-traveled alto saxophonist in history in terms of the countless musical lands he's visited (and continues to visit) during his 35-year career. Lake has played with everyone from Abbey Lincoln to Lou Reed, Björk and A Tribe Called Quest. In the '70s, he founded the Black Artists Group and, later, the World Saxophone Quartet. In 1998, in addition to his continuing work with various groups and solo artists, Lake created his Steel Quartet around the virtuosity of steel drummer Lyndon Achee. The group have released two visionary jazz records since their inception: 1999's Kinda Up and this year's Dat Love.
For those whose major impression of Lake involves not-off-the-mark comparisons to fellow altoist, the late Eric Dolphy, and the sort of brash, arpeggiated solos that do much to define free jazz and post bop, the Oliver Lake Steel Quartet will come across as a revelation. Rooted more firmly in classic bop than in free jazz, OLSQ operate as a groove collective, juxtaposing steel drum and sax against a freewheeling rhythm section. Melodic exercises range from the tightly knit to the loosely improvised, but the rhythmic undercurrents maintain song structure at all times.
Achee's steel drum prowess adds a certain Caribbean flavor to the music, but it's unquestionably Lakean jazz—far-reaching, liberally seasoned and deliciously unpredictable. What comes next for Oliver Lake remains tantalizingly unclear, but his current excursion offers more than enough musical nourishment to tide us over.