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Ran Blake / Claire Ritter: Eclipse Orange

Jerome Wilson By

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Pianist Claire Ritter is one of the countless musicians out there who deserve more recognition. A former student of Ran Blake's, she has forged her own path as a composer and educator. This CD presents a 2017 concert she gave with Blake, in North Carolina, for Thelonious Monk's 100th birthday. The program features compositions by Ritter, Blake and Monk, played in solo and duo configurations, involving both pianists and saxophonist Kent O'Doherty.

The entire concert has an easy, harmonious flow to it. When the two pianists play together, they fill in each other's gaps and create strong, rich melodic lines. Blake's dark lullaby "Short Life Of Barbara Monk" sounds gentler and lusher than usual, and Ritter pieces, like "Waltzing the Splendor," "In Between" and "Eclipse Orange," have a dreamy grace and sound, like slightly sinister romantic ballads out of a Golden Age Hollywood movie soundtrack. The duo's treatment of "Over The Rainbow" is a charming, off-center stumble while their version of Ritter's "Integrity" is a playfully tipsy four-handed soft-shoe rhythm.

Though this is a Monk Centennial concert, there are only two actual Monk compositions on the program, a two-piano version of "Blue Monk" that sounds almost giddy with its springy, blues-tinged runs, and "I Mean You" played as a prickly duet by Ritter and O'Doherty, whose playing has a warmth and heaviness which brings a more intimate, adult vibe into the mix. He and Ritter create surging, moody romance on "Karma Waltz," and make a pleasing contrast of playfulness and sensuality on the carefree strolling of "Cool Digs" and the gliding honky-tonk groove of "Blue Grits."

Ritter only has one solo performance, in the solemn and hymn-like "Emerald & the Breeze." Blake, even when playing solo, continues to emphasize melody and body over his usual icy fragmentation. His version of "Summertime" is quiet and deliberate with only slight dissonance, and the old hymn "There's Been A Change" is played with measured dignity and a hint of gospel soul. He also does two medleys; "The Claire Ritter Story" dissects three of Ritter's compositions with grand, dreamlike gestures, while a Brazilian medley, that includes "Brazil," "Desifinado" and "The Girl From Ipanema" moves from song to song with precision and understated flair.

Many of these performances are brief with most in the 1:30 to 2:30 range, and only three over four minutes. This reflects Ritter's playing and composing style, a spare framework boiled down to essentials of melody and harmony, that makes its point and gets out. In this concert, playing with two sympathetic partners, she uses this style to create music of quiet delicacy and power.

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: Claire Ritter: piano; Ran Blake: piano; Kent O'Doherty: saxophone (6, 8, 10, 14, 16).

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

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