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Ran Blake / Claire Ritter: Eclipse Orange

Dan McClenaghan By

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The concert that resulted in the CD Eclipse Orange was done in honor of pianist Thelonious Monk's 100th birthday, but there's so much more than a Monk showcase here. Pianists Claire Ritter and Ran Blake play in duets and solos, and Ritter shares the stage with Australian saxophonist Kent O'Doherty on five tunes, in an atmospheric and wide-ranging program.

The pairing of Blake and Ritter began in 1981, when Ritter arrived to study at New England Conservatory, where Blake has taught for a half century. The pair's mentor/student relationship evolved into a peer collaboration in 1988, when Blake guested on Ritter's debut recording, In Between (Zoning Recordings).

Ritter and Blake—considering their individual discographies, and Eclipse Orange—bubble over with distinct and disparate ideas. Blake's best-of-year disc Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (A-side Records, 2015) contains seventeen cuts, including the familiar "Autumn in New York" opening and closing the disc, sandwiching the likes of "Telegram from Gunther" (Schuller), "You Are My Sunshine" and Russell's "StratusPhunk" and "Ezz-Thetic." Ritter's Soho Solo (Zoning Records, 2015) holds twenty tunes, eighteen of her own compositions along with Harold Arlen's "I've Got The World On A String" wrapping up the show, and Ran Blake's "Breakthru" slipped into the mix as a nod to her former mentor.

Eclipse Orange opens with a Ran Blake solo exploration, "Claire Ritter Story," a tip of the hat to his former mentee with a three tune medley of Claire Ritter compositions, including the disc's title tune, which the team reprises later with a two pianos offering. The duet is one that showcases Ritter and Blake's parallel styles that embrace "beautiful, haunting melodies" and deep introspections on color and tone, space and unexpected angularities.

For his part, Blake brings the influences of Gunther Schuller's Third Stream—as Blake mentored Ritter, Schuller mentored Blake—gospel, film noir themes and Thelonious Monk, in addition to unique harmonic structures and idiosyncratic melodic phrasing. Much of his influence has seeped into Ritter's ouvre. She also brings in a classical influence along with swing and bop themes and the occasional stride. In duet with Blake she with picks out a particularly prickly "Blue Monk," from the Monk songbook, before she flows into her perhaps most beautiful composition, a solo take on this disc's title tune.

Both Ritter and Blake work with concision, no long extrapolations, no wasted notes; Eclipse Orange is an unfolding of twenty succinct tunes, from two to five minutes in length—a couple from Monk's pen, a Gershwin song ("Summertime"), a "Brazil Melody," Harold Arlen's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" along with a handful of tunes from Blake and more than a handful from Ritter, all duo and solo efforts. Monk's "I Mean You" is a piano/saxophone (Ritter and Kevin O'Doherty) showcase that lets the good times roll and rollick. "In Between," from Ritter's pen, features Blake and Ritter painting a scene of serene, pensive beauty. Ritter nods to her former teacher, pianist Mary Lou Williams, with the angular-yet-sprightly "Backbone." They close out with a duet on Ritter's "Integrity," a perfect, timeless shining star of sound, the title summing up the artistic approaches of both players.

Track Listing: Claire Ritter Story; Blue Monk; Eclipse Orange; Backbone; Short Life Of Barbara Monk; I Mean You; In Between; Blue Grits; Emerald & The Breeze; High Top Sneakers; Summertime; Waltzing The Splendor; Improvisation On Selma; Karma Waltz; Breakthru; Cool Digs; There's Been A Change; Brazil Medley; Over The Rainbow, Integrity.

Personnel: Ran Blake, Claire Ritter: piano; Kent O'Doherty: tenor saxophone.

Title: Eclipse Orange | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Zoning Recordings

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