Michael Blanco is an imaginative
bandleader, an emerging composer
and a damn fine bassist.
-- Fred Hersch
Michael Blanco is a resourceful young
bassist with two albums to his name, and a reputation confirmed by
the caliber of his partners.
-- Nate Chinen, The New York Times
The story of bassist/composer Michael Blanco's third album as a leader, Spirit Forward, available on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records on October 7, 2016, is primarily the story of how Blanco assembled this particular group of musicians, and how they in turn inspired the composer to write compelling music for this very special and unique combination of musical personalities; the Michael Blanco Quartet, featuring John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Kevin Hays (piano) and Clarence Penn (drums). The album title Spirit Forward is a bartending term for a type of cocktail made with strong spirits (like the Manhattan or Martini) that seeks to highlight and enhance the flavor of the base spirit, not to mask its flavor. These cocktails are harmonious and balanced, yet bold. "When choosing Spirit Forward for the album title, I had this definition in mind and how it relates to my music. It’s a good metaphor for how strong musical personalities can come together and create a dynamic unit, while still maintaining their individuality. I also had a few other meanings in mind: I like the idea that the act of releasing an album of original music is akin to putting your 'spirit forward' out into the world, as well as the way the word spirit can be used to mean motion (like 'spirit away'), so Spirit Forward also means forward motion and continuing progress," explained Blanco.
Michael Blanco, a two-time recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award (2005, 2006), moved to NYC in 2000, and has since worked with many artists at the forefront of the contemporary jazz scene, including saxophonists John Ellis, Rich Perry, Donny McCaslin, Jon Irabagon, and Will Vinson; guitarists Lage Lund, Jonathan Kreisberg, Gilad Hekselman, and Mary Halvorson; pianists Kevin Hays, Aaron Goldberg, Adam Birnbaum, and David Cook; and drummers Clarence Penn, Donald Edwards, Ari Hoenig, Mark Ferber, and Tomas Fujiwara. He has been a member of bands led by Alan Ferber, Bob Reynolds, Shayna Steele, Russ Nolan, Doug Wamble, Patrick Cornelius, John Chin, Richard Doron Johnson, and Frank Basile, among others. Blanco's debut album In The Morning was released in 2006. JazzTimes Magazine called the album, "a remarkable introduction that leaves one eager to hear more," and described Blanco's compositions as having a, "dusky, imploring quality, with catchy, insistent hooks and compelling harmonies," while Bass World declared that "His approach to composition is fresh and the arrangements are lush and compelling." Blanco's second album, No Time Like The Present, was released in 2013. The album made Ralph A. Miriello's "Best of Jazz 2013" list in the Huffington Post, while Marc Meyers at JazzWax described it as, "a beautiful album with compositional depth and technical maturity," and proclaimed, "Blanco understands the meaning of originality - tastefully rolling out your creative vision while keeping the customer satisfied." Blanco has been selected twice by the U.S. Department of State to be an artistic representative for the U.S. abroad. Blanco is also in high demand outside of the world of jazz: he has performed in the orchestras of over thirty Broadway shows and is currently the bassist for the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Recent highlights from his busy freelance career include a recording with the legendary violinist, Itzhak Perlman, performing on the soundtrack to the Cohen brothers' major motion picture, Hail Caesar!, and a television appearance on USA's Royal Pains, alongside violinist Joshua Bell. Blanco has performed at major NYC venues including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Town Hall, Birdland, Iridium, Smoke, and Blue Note, as well as smaller important laboratories for jazz like The Cornelia Street Cafe, Smalls, ShapeShifter Lab, Barbes, Korzo, IBeam, and The Bar Next Door at La Lanterna. Although he spends most of his time in NYC, Blanco has also had the pleasure of performing around the world.