Sunday, June 14, 2009

Less is More...

To many jazz listeners pianist Ran Blake is an enigma, or at least, a minor mystery. He's been active on the jazz scene for more than forty years but most would be hardpressed to come up with a title of any of his compositions or, for that matter, a title of any of his recordings.

He has taught for many years at the New England Conservatory and heads the Third Stream Music department there. This goes a long way toward suggesting a description of the music he creates.

Besides music, Blake's other abiding passion is film noir. I remember attending a Ran Blake concert in which he improvised music before a screen projecting scenes from various film noir classics. It was definitely a unique way to experience improvised music!

I also caught a performance between Ran Blake and his former student, saxophonist Ricky Ford. Another exciting concert!

Blake has customarily recorded and performed as a solo artist or with few collaborators. He's the perfect accompanyist for singers because he's both spare and the consumate "listener" (in the same way Tommy Flanagan and John Hicks were). One of his perfect vocal collaborators was Jeanne Lee. She shared Blake's penchant for understatement and possessed a deep, dusky voice. She left the listener with the impression that she wasn't singing a song made up of words and notes and keys and bars and time signatures but, rather, was the medium by which human emotion and experience was expressed. You got the impression she was communicating with you and you alone. Well, there was Ran. He would construct the musical skeleton for which Jeanne would create the flesh and blood that made each collaboration a living, breathing entity.

What we have before us is a recent (from March 2009) live recording from WGBH in Boston (for all intents and purposes, Blake's hometown). I've cut out much of the banter between Blake and the host. It feels like a small, intimate crowd that encountered Ran Blake's singular musical conception through several medleys. Beautiful.
The playlist:
1. Medley 1 13:58
2. Medley 2 10:56
3. 1706 Medley 3 (dedicated to the Obama Family) 9:11
4. You Are My Sunshine 1:30

The recording is an early collaboration between Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee - Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee InStockholm, 1966. The material runs the gamut of Beatles covers to "Honysuckle Rose". They perform duets and Ran plays several solo pieces, too.

1. Ticket to Ride
2. Kinda' Sweet
3. Corcovado Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars
4. Let's Go
5. Ja-Da
6. Bombastica!
7. Lydiana People of This World
8. Crystal Trip
9. Taste of Honey
10. Night and Day
11. I Can Tell
12. Take the A Train
13. Living Up to Life
14. A Hard Day's Night
15. Girl From Ipanema
16. Vanguard
17. Glaziation
18. You Stepped Out of a Dream
19. I Can Tell More
20. Desafinado & One Note Samba
21. Stars Fell on Alabama
22. Just Friends
23. Free Standards
24. I'll Remember April
25. Honeysuckle Rose

If you're unfamiliar with their music and you enjoy the music of John Lewis, middle Cassandra Wilson, or Norma Winstone, you should give this a listen.


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