Sam Blakelock is a guitarist open to the various streams and influences around him and he is clearly going places. Formerly from Christchurch where he completed the Christchurch University Jazz Studies course, he found himself attracting wider attention. A best guitarist award and the Jack Urlwin scholarship were to follow. After a stint on luxury cruse ships he settled in New York where he is about to embark upon a Masters at NYU.
Like a number of Jazz guitarists these days Sam Blakelock plays a Fender. With Fender playing Bill Frisell cleaning up the ‘best of’ Jazz guitar polls year after year, the instruments emergence in mainstream Jazz is unsurprising. It is hard to imagine Marc Ribot ripping up the rulebook on a classic hollow-body. These warhorse guitars can be coaxed gently or smote with force and in the hands of a Jazz trained guitarist the sound palate is open-ended. Blakelock’s approach is more to coax the instrument and the clip I am posting illustrates that approach. While the quality of an instrument matters, it is the inventiveness and the ability to communicate interesting musical ideas that matters more. The compositions were all original, many composed for this New Zealand farewell tour. They felt like markers laid down at a waypoint in the journey. A point to delineate his hometown success from the success that is surely to follow.
For bandmates he chose two ex-pat Christchurch musicians, Richie Pickard (bass) and Andy Keegan (drums). Completing the quartet was popular local alto player Callum Passells. Having an alto in the mix gave him a very specific palate; giving the arranged heads a distinctive sound. A certain freedom in voicing made possible. Blakelock’s upper register lines blended perfectly with the clean toned melodic alto; playing in unison or subtly accenting solos with minimalist comping. Keegan and Pickard anchored the quartet.
At one point Blakelock played a riveting solo piece and on another he stole the limelight with a slow blues that burned like a torch song and sang like an exotic bird. It is when he is in complete charge or playing alone that we see him at his best. It will be interesting to see him in a few years time, when New York has further polished his already considerable skills. When he has a moment I hope he passes this way again.
What: The Sam Blakelock Quartet Farewell Tour. Sam Blakelock (guitar, compositions), Callum Passells (alto sax), Richie Pickard (upright and electric basses), Andy Keegan (drums).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 7th May 2014. www.creativejazzclub.co.nz samblakelock.com