OLIVER LAKE STEEL QUARTET
The steel quartet led by saxophonist Oliver Lake opens its new CD, "Dat Love," by saluting another Oliver -- the late composer Oliver Nelson -- via a one-of-a-kind treatment of "Stolen Moments," in which Lake's alto and steel drummer Lyndon Achee's solitary pan illuminate the theme in unison. It's a jazz arrangement, not a tropical-flavored novelty, and like much of what follows, it reveals yet another dimension of Lake's expansive sound.
Best known for co-founding the World Saxophone Quartet, Lake is up to serious fun here. Just when you think he's aiming for something smooth and accessible -- on his own soul ballad "Double Space," for example -- his tone suddenly becomes keening and restless, breaking free of the melody with bursts of jagged notes played over a funk beat. Achee's role, meanwhile, is more multifaceted than you might expect. Instead of emphasizing splashes of Caribbean colors, he often serves the band as a pianist or a guitarist would, devising countermelodies, blues-tinted improvisations or sparse accompaniments.
In fact, sometimes -- on the CD's title track and elsewhere -- his solos flow so naturally that he seems to be playing a keyboard. The sinewy lines and muted pulse favored by electric bassist Reggie Washington are another big plus, as is drummer Damon Duewhite's R&B-to-swing bearing.
Lake, who doubles on soprano sax, takes advantage of the unusual instrumentation to explore some familiar tunes, ranging from Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" to the Mary J. Blige-Stevie Wonder collaboration "Time." The arrangements are distinctive to say the least, but thanks largely to Achee's well-integrated sound, they never come across as gimmicky.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Saturday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Oliver Lake Steel Quartet, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8126. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)