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Ran Blake: All That Is Tied

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Of the plethora of pianist/composers who have extended the style of Thelonious Monk, none has been as relentlessly exploratory and consistently thoughtful in his experiments as Ran Blake. On this session recorded four decades after his first solo piano album on ESP, Blake revisits material he's recorded in the past, but Blake has never remotely repeated his interpretations routinely. At the age of 70, he will hardly routinize his repetoire now.

Blake performs the twelve numbers with characteristic daring. The Monk influence has grown refined over the deacdes. It began with a foregrounding of Monk's surprising dissonances and a widening of Monk's oddly placed silences. But unlike Monk, Blake brings a kind of European classical sensibility, both melodically and harmonically, to his improvisations. I've always thought he created a unique fusion of Schoenberg and Webern with Monk and black gospel. This disc adds strength to my conviction. It's austere and dramatic as only the twelve-tone row composers could be—but funny and quirky as only Monk could be.

This probably explains why Ran Blake has never remotely received the recognition that he has deserved. His music plays at the margins of what jazz piano has been historically. In a healthier cultural climate for jazz, this would be acclaimed as genius. But in today's rigidly conservative cultural atmosphere, Blake doesn't cause the needle on Wynton's "Swing-o-Meter" to wobble. Blake's music doesn't so much conventionally swing as tell a phantasmagoric tale impressionistically. The twelve compositions on this disc run together in my mind as a series of fantastic dreams flowing timelessly forward. It is a lovely introduction for those unlucky souls who haven't heard Ran Blake before—and an ideal career retrospective for those who have.

My only minor caveat is that I don't like how the recording engineer captured Blake's piano. In fact, the so-so recorded sound brings to mind that Ran Blake's first solo album forty years ago also suffered from sub-par sound quality, although many ESP releases did. I wish ECM had recorded Blake and would do so now.

Track Listing: All That Is Tied; Breakthru; Birmingham, U.S.A.; Thursday; How

Personnel: Ran Blake: piano.

Title: All That Is Tied | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Tompkins Square

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