oliver lake | performances of december 1975 and 1976

Photo: Juan Carlos Hernandez

PERFORMANCE OF DECEMBER 29, 1975 at the Blue Dolphin, San Francisco

Oliver Lake / alto and curved soprano saxophones, percussion, Eddie Edwards / soprano saxophone (one tune only).

PERFORMANCE OF JANUARY 5, 1976 at Keystone Korner, San Francisco

Oliver Lake / alto and curved soprano saxophones, Baikida E.J. Carroll / trumpet and flugelhorn, James Leary / bass, Eddie Marshall / drums, Eddie Edwards / soprano saxophone, George Sams / trumpet, added for one piece.

Oliver Lake was in town for the holidays and presented two concerts of his music. They were hastily put together affairs, but each managed to attract some two to three hundred people.

Hearing Lake first hand, it became obvious that my previous analogy of his work to that of Anthony Braxton (see review of Heavy Spirits) was not entirely correct. While Lake’s methods are similar to those of the Chicagoans, his music is much more compressed and considerably more direct. Like the Chicagoans, though, Lake is a dramatist, and his music tends to unfold in contrasting chunks. Often, the various configurations are stated in elongated “heads,” then developed, but they may also appear independently, each tending to extend the implications of the previous one.

The solo concert was clearly the more important of the two, and the reasons may mainly have to do with the extent to which the so-called “single line” instruments have outdistanced the “rhythm” instruments in terms of contemporary musical expression. In the solo concert, form and content were necessarily one, and the jaggedness of Lake’s expression suggested any number of minute but equivalent developmental possibilities (the emergence of mini-forms within larger ones). But with the quartet, ideas such as these were frequently absorbed (and thus cushioned as to their effect) by the more highly defined rhythmic surroundings. This was due to the fact that even the somewhat freer percussive standards, or at least the mainstream of such – say, post-Elvin Jones, as much of Eddie Marshall’s work has to do with – are still so heavily dependent on an all-but-stated rhythmic-harmonic center; and this can detract in no small amount from the impact of the music as a whole.

Yet the quartet setting did provide the opportunity to hear Lake’s work at greater length, and it also introduced trumpeter Baikida E.J. Carroll to Bay Area listeners. Carroll’s sound is thick and brash and, like Lester Bowie’s, closer to an “older” trumpet sound. He and Lake had played together previously (a record, Orange Fish Tears, was made in Paris under Carroll’s name), and their lines meshed well here. Lake, though, appeared to have a greater range of ideas, and his sound served as a generating source.

oliver-lake.jpgLake, in fact, is a player of exceptional ability: that point was well made at the solo concert. He is an original stylist with a deep grasp of the technical possibilities of his instruments, particularly the alto. He uses an extremely wide range of sound/note choices, each of necessity increasing the effect of the others. He employs space sparingly, his lines tending to dart off in all directions, and he plays with a force that seems frequently to want to burst the formal bounds of his expression. A question arises: if it were to actually burst, where would it go? This is not an altogether academic question, as it has as much to do with the formal settings in which Lake chooses to work as it does with his playing itself. In the solo concert, these split-second structural deadlocks seemed only the edge of some yet-to-be-defined future growth possibilities. Yet with the quartet, they appeared to turn back on themselves, as the formal bounds seemed to hold in check – by reduction to simpler terms – Lake’s more far reaching stylistic allusions.

In both concerts, Lake incorporated his earthily flavored poetry into his work which he shouted/sung and alternated with his playing. Especially in the solo concert, this provided a good change of pace and worked better than most such music and poetry combinations generally work. Both concerts were recorded by Berkeley’s listener-sponsored radio station, KPFA.

Henry Kuntz, 1976

Oliver Lakes’s web page

selected Oliver Lake recordings:


Oliver Lake biography:

Oliver Lake, composer, saxophonist and poet. Co-founder of the renowned World Saxophone Quartet. Guggenheim fellow for composition, premiered orchestra piece in spring 94, “Cross Stitch“, for the Wheeling Symphony, first African American to be commissioned by Library of Congress and McKim Foundation for composition. His piece for violin and piano,”Movements Turns & Switches” premiered in fall of ’93 at Academy of Arts and Sciences Washington D.C. Received numerous commissions composition from N.E.A. and Meet the Composer of New York. His compositions are at the Smithsonian and were on the recommended list of recordings by president Clinton. Various artist have performed his works, such as Arditti String Quartet, World Sax Quartet, Amherst Sax Quartet, Regina Carter, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Wheeling Symphony, San Francisco Contemporary Players, New York New Music Ensemble, and Pulse Percussion Ensemble of New York.

During the year Oliver Lake has been performing a solo theater piece that he created,”Matador Of 1st & 1st” directed by Oz Scott. He has toured this work in the fall of ’96 on the west coast of U.S. and Canada. Oliver’s latest quintet recording is entitled “Dedicated To Dolphy” on the Italian label, Black Saint, and latest solo recording is the of above mentioned theater piece entitled “Matador Of 1st & 1st” recorded on the Passin’ Thru Label.


some Oliver Lake paintings:

Oliver Lake is a world renowned Jazz musician and composer. He is a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and has worked with contemporary pop icons including Bjork, Lou Reed, Mos Def and Tribe Called Quest. His overnight success as a visual artist was a mere 30 years ago in the making, with a body of work that is as colorful and diverse as his music.







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