At the Corner: Ran Blake / Sara Serpa / Christine Correa
The common element between Sara Serpa’s Aurora and Christine Correa’s Down Here Below is obviously pianist Ran Blake. Enigmatic to a fault, Blake has made a potent name for himself among improvised music enthusiasts. Blake is an intellectual amalgam of pianists Thelonious Monk and Martial Solal distilled to a dissonant essence.
A long time professor at the New England Conservatory, Blake has taken many under his tutelage, specifically singers, beginning with Jeanne Lee on The Newest Sound Around (BMG, 1962) . Two contemporary singers claiming Blake as a mentor are Sara Serpa and Christine Correa, who each has recorded with Blake previously. These two recordings illustrate art made by like minds sharing the same intellectual space
Sara Serpa and Ran Blake – Aurora Clean Feed (CF 264)
Camera Obscura (Inner Circle Music, 2010) was the first recorded collaboration between vocalist Sara Serpa and her mentor, pianist Ran Blake. That recording was a moody assault on the fringes of the American Songbook, culminating in an “April In Paris” recorded at the Bates Motel after the word got out about Norman’s mother. Aurora continues where Camera Obscura left off. If anything, Aurora is darker and more nuanced. A bouncy “Moonride” smolders into a stark and terrifying “Strange Fruit,” full of vocal gymnastics and vocalese.
Blake contributes a lengthy original to the mix in “Mahler Noir,” eight minutes that could serve as a soundtrack of any of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther stories. Imagine Wagner, mad with Beethoven, pounding out a suffering late-Romantic recital piece. Disconcerting and off- putting, this strange music has a gravitational pull that disallows any quick dismissal, reeling the listener in to hear “just what is going to happen next.”
“The Band Played On” is where everything fully clicks. The late-19th Century popular tune is delivered as a crippled calliope song with Serpa taking her liberties with the material, making it suited for the remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. While this sounds negative, it is anything but. A certain genius on Serpa and Blake’s part governs the interpretation of these songs, something beyond the postmodern…something well beyond.
Ran Blake and Christine Correa – Down Here Below: Tribute to Abbey Lincoln Volume One (Self Produced)
Vocalist Christine Correa has had a twenty-year musical relationship with Ran Blake that has resulted in Roundabout (Music and Arts, 1994), Out of the Shadows (Self Produced, 2010) and the present Down Here Below: Tribute to Abbey Lincoln Volume One. Neither artist show the least bit of interest in the status quo, instead opting to push the perimeter of existing repertoire well beyond the bounds of traditional performance.
As with the Serpa disc, Blake remains taciturn introspective, allowing notes to collide almost randomly while Correa provides just enough aural memory that a theme to the performances indeed does exist and that theme is based on another iconoclastic artist, Abbey Lincoln. The title piece is offered in two half—a cappella renderings, delivered full-throated by Correa, dissolving into Blake’s most introspective playing on the disc. The pianist turns inward in search of the necessary pathos to spill upon the keys.
The pair also doubles Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Freedom Day,” delivering an almost desperately anxious performance in the first take, while the second take comes off more rhythmically sound with Correa no less extroverted than the first take. “Brother, Can You Spare Me A Dime” is completely transformed from a saloon tune to a post-modern blues hymn. Where Serpa is finesse and irony, Correa is sheer power and fractured momentum.