Ron Francis Blake is a trumpet player whose latest album, “Assimilation,” features lush, full compositions that make the most of unusual instruments and large ensembles of players.
Ron Francis Blake’s early years
Ron Francis Blake is a Los Angeles-based musician. He hails from a musical family, and has been playing music since he was 9 years old. During his formative years, Blake found that he had a particular skill for playing the trumpet.
Blake continued his musical study in high school and college, attending both the Hamilton High School Academy of Music, and Cal State Northridge. In his collegiate years, Blake undertook the daunting task of entering jazz competitions. He won several, including First Place in the Dolo Coker Jazz competition.
The road to “Assimilation”
The work for the album, “Assimilation” began in 2008. Slowly, Blake recruited the best musicians in Los Angeles to help out on the recording. With careful arranging and writing, the album juxtaposes the best of Miles Davis and Cal Tjader, so that cool jazz and Latin rhythms co-exist easily.
Just like America, “Assimilation” the album is representative of a melting pot of sound. The way each instrument seeks to relate to others is fascinating to hear, and the result is new jazz that has the potential to become classic.
The sound of “Assimilation”
There is something quirky and refreshing about the music of Blake. Maybe it is the heady mixture of instruments—Blake plays both trumpet and flugelhorn on the album; Nick Mancini play the vibraphone. The somewhat unusual instrumentation (depending on one’s perspective) lends an air of the experimental to the work. Then, listeners realize that the so-called quirks are actually a masterful take on jazz.
In addition to the flugelhorn and vibraphone, the sound Blake creates is filled out by congas, quijada, two French horns, and two additional flugelhorns (besides Blake), and a bass trombone, played by Francisco Torres.
The music takes on a Latin feel sometimes, and at other times, it is the traditional jazz that most fans of the genre came to love first. Looking at the list of musicians, and the list of songs, it is overwhelming to think how Blake will make use of all the personnel and the variety of sounds they bring. A few minutes in, listeners have their answer. The sound is full and complex without being messy. In all honesty, I was expecting messy, but that didn’t happen. On the faster songs, it is difficult to keep up with what instrument is in or out, or whose chords are changing now. But not every listener has such analysis as a goal.
This song represents Blake’s best use of additional brass. The song sounds sinewy and awake. Sometimes, classic jazz that has a full sound and lush rhythm can produce the lethargy in listeners. But that is not the case on “Night Dream.” The texture and arrangement are classic jazz, and the horn work is underscored by enthusiastic drumming.
Some people see assimilation as surrendering the native self for a foreign existence. On Blake’s album, the music that has inspired the trumpeter come together and make new music, never losing their natural qualities. Much could be said about Blake’s work, but the music shouldn’t be missed. It is really something that people have to experience for themselves.