There’s no question he’s got talent, but the career of saxist Ron Blake reminds us that a little luck never hurts, either. When Blake left Chicago in the early 90s, he had already made significant strides toward becoming a fluent and effective improviser. He moved to Florida, then to New York, where trumpeter Roy Hargrove first heard him; within the year he had joined Hargrove’s high-profile band. Working alongside marquee players Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman on Roy Hargrove Quintet With the Tenors of Our Time left him in a good spot when Hargrove put his quintet on hold last year; Blake’s smoothly paced solos have found a home in several other groups, and he now has a respectable discography. He’s shown up on several dates for the excellent Dutch mainstream label Criss Cross, including one by Chicago guitarist Bobby Broom (Waitin’ and Waitin’) and two led by drummers, Tony Reedus’s Minor Thang and Clarence Penn’s Penn’s Landing, whose pianoless quartet format forced Blake to step up to the next level. On the most recent of his recordings, pianist Marc Cary’s Listen (Arabesque), the saxophonist takes all but full responsibility for fronting the band, shaping its sleek sound. Blake’s tone is hefty but clear, enough of a presence to grab the ear all by itself. And by Hargrove’s example he has learned to aim his improvisations at the center of a tune, rather than scattering flashy cliches like buckshot in the manner of several of his contemporaries. Blake welcomes fellow saxist Ari Brown to the stage on the first night of this engagement; both nights he fronts the lively and well-grounded trio led by pianist Ron Perrillo, with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas. These guys aren’t the best-known outfit in town, but each of them has a healthy–not slavish–respect for the giants who played his instrument before him; together they make an especially hearty combo that both cushions and challenges a soloist. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Neil Tesser
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Polley Thomas.