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Ran Blake: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell

Mark Sullivan By

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Pianist/composer Ran Blake presents a loving tribute to his late colleague George Russell in a diverse program anchored by his sensitive piano playing. Blake and Russell taught together at the New England Conservatory for many years. Russell was immensely influential as a modal jazz theorist, but Blake loves his compositions above all. He interprets several of them here, along with some of his own and a few biographically relevant standards.

The set opens and closes with solo piano versions of the standard "Autumn in New York." Blake's evocative exploration of the tune sets the stage for the mostly gentle, reflective music that follows. After another solo (his own "Alice Norbury") Blake confounds expectations with an extroverted romp through Russell's "Living Time," arranged in the sextet format Russell often favored.

The rest of the album continues alternating between solo piano and a variety of ensemble arrangements. Blake solos on Russell's "Stratusphunk" and "Ezz-Thetic," as well as a dissonant take on the standard "Manhattan." The other Russell compositions each receives a different treatment: "Jack's Blues" is colored by guitar, trumpet, and trombone; "Ballad of Hix Blewitt" features trumpet, trombone, pedal steel guitar, and violin; "Vertical Form VI" uses electric keyboards and trombone; and "Lonely Place" adds vibraphone to the three horns.

"Biography" is a striking original, a soundscape collaboration between Blake and Luke Moldof's electronics. And just when you think you've heard everything, there's a surprise arrangement of the Americana tune "You Are My Sunshine" with fiddle and pedal steel, right before the closing solo piano version of "Autumn in New York."

Ran Blake was one of the architects of the Third Stream marriage between jazz and classical music. This program is a beautiful, delightful demonstration of how well that approach can work in the hands of a master. At age 80 Blake's imagination and pianistic skills are undiminished.

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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