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Ran Blake: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell

Dan McClenaghan By

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At eighty years of age, pianist Ran Blake has shaped an impressive and multifaceted legacy: four decades of mentoring students at the New England Conservatory; helping shape a new genre of music, Third Stream, the marriage of the jazz and classical worlds; his teaming with the lady vocalists—Jeanne Lee, Christine Correa, Sara Serpa, Dominque Eade; numerous solo piano recordings, and a handful-plus of tribute sets, honoring icons like Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn.

Ghost Tones is yet another tribute, this time to the somewhat overlooked, but hugely influential composer/arranger/band leader George Russell, whose ideas opened the door for the post bop modal revolution that trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane took off and ran with.

This is largely a subdued, subtle, reverent set, sublime in its deep explorations of Russell's compositions, Blake's nod to his beloved friend and teaching compatriot at the New England Conservatory. It opens, and closes, with haunting takes on the standard "Autumn in New York," spare and pensive and sad solo piano. Electronics give off a brief aurora borealis glow on Blake's "Alice Newbury." Horns and electric pianos drive the music inside an implacable rhythm on Russell's "Living Time," on one of the most satisfyingly complex yet engaging arrangements on the set. Blake's "Biography" is grand and majestic, and eerie, a surreal whirlpool of an electronic universe seasoned with acoustic piano. It sounds like an expansive galaxy forming, and beginning to spin. Russell's "Stratuspunk," with Blake on solo piano, is a gorgeous rumination. Russell's "Jack's Blues" has an angular, percussive piano interplay with cushion-y horns.

There are a lot of sides to George Russell's life's work. The same can said of artistry of Ran Blake. Ghost Tones explores most of them, with a supreme intelligence, odd-but-intricate arranging and a supernatural quality that gives the set a feeling of beautiful cohesion.

Track Listing: Autumn in New York; Alice Norbury; Living Time; Paris; Telegram From Gunther; Biography; Stratusphunk; Jack's Blues; Manhattan; Balad of Hix Blewitt; Cincinnati Express; Vertical Form VI; JacquesCrawls; Lonely Place; Ess-Thetic; You Are My Sunshine; Autumn in New York.

Personnel: Ran Blake: piano, Casio Priva PX electric piano (2, 3, 12, 14); Peter Kenagy: trumpet (3, 5, 10, 14); Aaron Hartley: trombone (3, 5, 8, 10, 14); Doug Pet: tenor saxophone (3, 14); Eric Lane: piano (3), Nord Electro, Fender Rhodes electric pianos (12); Jason Yeager: piano (12); Ryan Dugre: guitar: (8); Dave "Knife" Fabris: pedal steel gutar (10, 16); Rachel Massey: violin (10, 16); Brad Barrett acoustic bass (12), electric bass (3); David Flaherty: drums (8, 14); timpani (8); Charles Burchell: drums (3), timpani (12, 14), vibraphone (14);Luke Moldof: electronics (6).

Title: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: A-side Records

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