Ran Blake is not precisely a minimalist, although he is seldom loquacious, and has a spare and virtually unerring sense of placement. He is transcendently evocative without ever lapsing into easy sentimentality, and can sum up, with just a few notes, effects that a hundred thrashers and bashers never approach. He can whisper. He can sing and he can pound. He never does anything to excess. He is a master.
Another delightful aspect of Ran Blake's playing - abundantly clear on this disc - is his catholicity. Here, alongside a few originals, are works by Duke and Billy, Diz, and Cole Porter. The usual suspects? Sure. But there's also Mingus' "Eclipse"; two takes of the spiritual that Mahalia Jackson made famous, "Elijah Rock"; Al Green's "Judy"; Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away"; "Vilna" by A. Olshanetsky and L. Wolfson; and "Doktor Mabuse" by Konrad Ellers.
Of the nineteen brief numbers on this disc, nine are solos by Blake. These are all infused with his customary elegance, especially his originals. The lengthiest and most fully developed of these pieces is the six-minute "Memphis." This track contains several of the characteristic motifs Blake returns to frequently on this disc (and elsewhere): a great fluidity of rhythm and a lyrical sheen that is often punctuated, but never broken, by short percussive blasts.
Joining Blake on five tracks is the guitarist David "Knife" Fabris; on five others is Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet. Fabris is a coloristic and percussive guitarist who shares Blake's soft-spokenness and sense of restraint. The pieces that feature him - notably "Vilna" - are arhythmic, sparse forays that achieve a kind of postmodern melodicism: the calm after the storm. Gregorio pitches in on the four-part "Enigma Suite," as well as Blakes's "Impresario of Death." The brief "Suites" are among the most abstract pieces on this disc. Gregorio's understated approach is a perfect match for Blake; Blake accompanies the clarinetist here as well as anyone ever has.
This is a beautiful disc, but not in any conventional sense. It is jazz infused with a rare harmonic and rhythmic sophistication. Don't miss this prime chance to hear a master at work.
Hatology discs can be obtained from North Country distributors, Cadence Bldg., Redwood, NY 13679. Phone/fax: (315) 287-2852 and (315) 287-2860. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.cadencebuilding.com.
Track listing: Elijah Rock 1 / Something to Live For / Get Out of Town / Enigma Suite: Part 1 / Memphis / Vilna / Enigma Suite: Part 2 / Mood Indigo / Eclipse / Elijah Rock 2 / Enigma Suite: Part 3 / Judy / A Night in Tunisia / Enigma Suite: Part 4 / Nightcrawler / Throw It Away / Impresario of Death / Doktor Mabuse / Ghosts of Cimetière de Père Lachaise.