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Album review: "Spirit Forward"


Michael Blanco

Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records

Bassists don't always get to step into the spotlight, so you may not have heard of Michael Blanco. Since moving to New York in 2000, he has performed with dozens of top jazz musicians, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Blanco has been in the pit orchestras of more than 30 Broadway shows, recorded with Itzhak Perlman, and played on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' film "Hail, Caesar." Maybe it will take his excellent new album, "Spirit Forward," to put him on the map as not only a fine bassist, but a formidable composer and band leader.

To start with, Blanco has chosen some of the best players on the New York scene to join him on the album: saxophonist John Ellis, pianist Kevin Hays, and drummer Clarence Penn. Hays and Ellis shine every time they take off on a solo, and Penn displays his percussion prowess throughout the album. And when Blanco plays a solo, like the beautiful flight on "Notes from Underground," he proves that the bass can indeed occupy the spotlight.