oliver lake

...warps conventions, then makes himself at home in the new landscape; he can still convey exultation, ferocity, tenderness, or the blues.
— John Pareles, The New York Times

Oliver Lake is an American jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer and poet. He is known mainly on alto saxophone but also performs on soprano saxophone and flute. He played in high school, but only applied himself seriously to alto saxophone at the age of 20. Lake worked in R&B and soul bands with Lester Bowie, then formed his own group with Floyd LeFlore (trumpet) and Leonard Smith (drums). In 1968, he received a BA in music education from Lincoln University and taught music in St. Louis schools for three years. During this time he became a founder member of the Black Artists Group (BAG) and co-ordinated exchange concerts with Chicago’s AACM. He studied arrangement and composition with Oliver Nelson and bass player Ron Carter. In 1972, he joined other BAG members in Paris, played with Anthony Braxton and explored electronic music.

Lake relocated to New York in September 1973, but returned to Paris to record Passing Thru, a solo alto saxophone record with a sax/synthesizer dialogue called ‘Whap’, in May 1974.Braxton used his position at Arista Records to get Lake a record contract and wrote a sleevenote for Heavy Spirits (1975). 

Later signed to Gramavision, Lake attempted to come on as a pop band (Jump Up), but despite spirited playing they never seemed to quite get the hang of the reggae rhythms they attempted to use. Lake had played in a saxophone quartet brought together by Braxton for his New York, Fall 1974 and in 1977, with David Murray replacing Braxton, they called themselves the World Saxophone Quartet.By the mid-80s the group was a firm favourite at international jazz festivals. Lake meanwhile led small groups that often included Geri Allen, Ak Laff and Fred Hopkins, producing shining, incisive music that brought together all the diverse threads of his career. In the late 80s he was also playing with Reggie Workman in the bass player’s own Ensemble and in the collective Trio Transition, and he can also be heard in electrifying form on Marilyn Crispell’s live 1991 Circles. During the 90s Lake worked with a diverse range of artists, including pianists Donal Fox and Borah Bergman, in addition to maintaining his working relationship with the World Saxophone Quartet. In 2003 he had a particularly fruitful tour of Denmark with John Tchica i, Kresten Osgood (drums) and Jonas Westergaard (bass).