Brian Blade on His Powerful New Musical Diary Recordings

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While living in an old mill in Nyack, New York, the skilled jazz drummer Brian Blade, who’s been part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet for the last fifteen years and fronted his Fellowship Band for the past close to two decades, started an audio diary of sorts on a four-track cassette recorder with songs he’d written on guitar. The songs were his personal thoughts; about them about his family, relationships, losing and gaining.

“You know, the trip so far,” Blade says. “Like a diary, for the most part, most people keep it private. I was content that these songs existed on my little four-track and that was it.”

He shared a few songs with producer and songwriter Daniel Lanois, who Blade credits him as one of his greatest friends and champions since meeting him New Orleans in the early ‘90s. Lanois helped get Blade to the point where he was confident enough to release the music and let other people hear it.

“Regardless of trying to make a record and get it out and you want as many people to hear it as possible, that was not the thing that was driving me,” Blade says. “Rather what I realized after the fact the releasing of something, the letting go of something, it unleashes and opens a door to something you can never know.”

In 2009, Blade released some of the songs culled from his audio diary on his stunning album Mama Rosa, his first singer-songwriter effort, named after his grandmother Rosa. It also features Lanois as a guest musician. Blade says that when the album came out, he was reunited with his first love, now wife Lurah after she heard “Mercy Angel,” a song he says speaks to something from the past that really only she and him would know.

“Had I left those songs in my little diary cassette four-track then perhaps…” he says. “I’m not saying I know the future or what God is thinking but I would like to think that he appreciates this action of letting it go and releasing something with a face it’s going to touch someone, and that someone might be your soulmate that you haven’t seen in twenty years. So the depth of that for me makes me want to go on and do it more and write more songs and meet people that say, ‘oh yeah, this song touched me’ or ‘I love this song’.”

When Blade plays with his Mama Rosa band at Dazzle for a two-night stand on Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14, they’ll be trying out some new material and there’s also plans to record a follow-up to Mama Rosa soon. Blade says some of the new songs are in the vein of Mama Rosa.

“There’s still the same blood kind of flowing through me but there’s other thoughts, other experiences since then,” he says. “So I’m trying to catch those shadows while they pass and put them in a song and hopefully they still mean something to me as I continue to play them. This is great because the beauty of coming to play at Dazzle or playing with four other people there’s sort of a trial by fire experience that happens.

“There’s no turning back right now. Here we are. We’re sharing something. You get to feel if the words… is it shooting like arrows out to people’s perception or is it falling to the ground? You have to gauge that not by applause but there’s an atmosphere that comes with knowing that you shot an arrow and it reached someone. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Something Blade also does with his songwriting is dig deeper, something he’s learned from Joni Mitchell, who’s he’s recorded with toured with.

“Don’t stay on the surface of something,” Blade says. “Try and go into the body of it and see what makes it run, emotionally speaking, and in your thoughts so hopefully it kind of has some staying power, at least for you. Hopefully if you’re getting this joy and somewhat revelatory experience from the process and feeling like, ‘Okay, this is coming to me,” hopefully that will also be imparted to someone who hears it. You hope, but it doesn’t rest on that. You have to do it anyway.”

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