Ran Blake | Driftwoods

Tompkins Square (2009)
By JON GARELICK  |  March 10, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

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You probably don't think about an acoustic jazz pianist's use of the sustain pedal except when you're listening to Ran Blake. In his slow-tempo ruminations, which are full of dramatic rests, the final chord of a phrase will bleed into the beginning of a single-note melodic phrase, and harmonies will drift like the fog in one of his beloved film noirs.

In this solo piano disc, he touches on only one film score, from Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker, but Driftwoods is dedicated to singers, and the reference is to Sarah Vaughan's version of the Quincy Jones themesong. Even the most familiar pieces here ("I Loves You, Porgy," "Unforgettable") are linked to particular performers and performances — they're of a piece with Blake's idiosyncratic interpretations.

Declamatory, stabbed-out single-note phrases will melt into a whispered chord in the space of a measure or open into dissonant flourishes. Each move has its dramatic, even cinematic effect, as when Billie Holiday & Lewis Allen's "Strange Fruit" turns minor-key (Alex North? Paul Glass?) at the place where we'd hear the lyrics "Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze." I'm not sure what words Blake is hammering so insistently on the repeated note from "Dancing in the Dark" — I'll have to find Vaughan's version with the Hal Mooney orchestra that he cites in the liner notes.

RAN BLAKE | Live on WGBH 89.7 FM | March 18 @ 9 pm

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