Tag Archives: Ran Blake

All About Jazz Italy review by Alberto Bazzurro

CF 264Sara Serpa/Ran Blake – Aurora (CF 264)
Secondo album (dopo Camera Obscura, datato 2010) del duo composto dalla trentaquattrenne cantante di Lisbona e dal settantottenne pianista del Massachusetts, Aurora raccoglie i riflessi di una doppia seduta (dal vivo e in studio) tenutasi nella capitale portoghese nel maggio 2012. Il clima che lo contraddistingue è lieve, ora più colloquiale, ora più scarno, quasi scabro, giocato per lo più su tinte tenui e volumi ridotti, con rare impennate verso temperature più accese. Ci sono eleganza e coerenza espressiva, ma alla fin fine anche una certa uniformità complessiva, che se da un lato connota e identifica il lavoro, dall’altro può determinare una qualche assuefazione in chi ascolta.

Il meglio sembra arrivare nel dittico centrale, in cui curiosamente la coppia si spezza. Così Sara Serpa percorre tutta sola l’omaggio, intenso e delicato, a Billie Holiday in “Strange Fruit,” così Blake, nel ben più ampio “Mahler Noir” (che già il titolo…), parte ad alta densità per poi farsi sottile, quasi quintessenziato, mantenendo sempre viva la tensione del pezzo.

Degni di menzione – in un ventaglio di brani comunque di livello alquanto omogeneo – appaiono anche “Cansaço,” in cui (forse non a caso) si abbandona il classico inglese per ripiegare sul più intimo portoghese, e “Fine and Dandy,” abbastanza insolitamente brioso, specie nelle soluzioni pianistiche.

All About Jazz review by C. Michael Bailey

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

CF 264Sara 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.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 264Sara Serpa / Ran Blake – Aurora (CF 264)
Classificatory issues are somehow crucial to the internet, which without the search engines and some sort of set of categories one ends up with William James’s “blooming, buzzing confusion.” So we have today an exceptional recording, Aurora (Clean Feed 264), that brings together vocalist Sara Sherpa with piano giant (not in size but stature of course) Ran Blake.   So I could put the CD in the guitar blog, which paradoxically also covers singers, or this blog, which covers “jazz” and tends more toward the instrumental, sans plucked strings as a central focus. I make the semi-arbitrary choice of following what I will do after writing up the review, file together with other Ran Blake recordings. We opt to let the pianist define the place, in no small way because Ran Blake has been a defining force in the music for so many years.   This is in part because a collaboration of Maestro Blake with a singer (and there have been many) is going to bring a certain harmonic and melodic event horizon to bear on things. Ran plays harmonic music with a very wide set of compositional gestures that often “paint” to the implied logical edges of the harmonies of the song at hand. The vocalists who join with him have a melody line to work off of and either go beyond or contrast with Maestro Blake’s voicings. They must be very good and have a keen ear for it all to work.   Aurora, by nature of the unique qualities of Sara Serpa’s vocal instrument, and because there are more original compositions performed (by Serpa and/or Blake) than is sometimes the case, there can be an all-over context that refers more to the performance event/work and less to the song, at least to the ear that does not find the song familiar. With Blake’s “Mahler Noir,” (droll title aptly applied), he directly recomposes using quotations from songs, and it’s especially about the recomposition at that point. Well perhaps that’s always the point with Ran, anyway. We push on.   Those pieces are of great interest, as are the versions of “Strange Fruit,” “The Band Played On,” “Fine and Dandy,” “Last Night When We Were Young,” and other less familiar songs.   Ms. Serpa has a marvelously nuanced approach, which is essential to a Ran Blake collaboration. Her voice is quite beautiful timbrally as well. Ran Blake rises to the occasion with his ever varying approach.   The results are what you might hope for. Exceptional art song/art improvisation. I will listen again, surely, for there is much to gain with repetition of such a swath of creativity.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

CF 264SARA SERPA / RAN BLAKE – Aurora (CF 264)
One of the things that kill jazz’s genuine sparkle is the showing of a disproportionate conversancy with a given inventory of techniques, which is the archetypal behaviour of many celebrated tricksters. A strong point in favour of Portuguese singer Sara Serpa is the lack of mannerism in that sense: the voice is apparently released devoid of excessive care about a faultless tone, not pretending a provocativeness that is not in her strings. Throughout Aurora she sings innocently, pretty much from the heart, which is more than OK when the ears have grown exhausted of performers who are hiding a mammoth ego under the alleged sheen of fatigued standards (though the “a cappella” rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” presented here is creditable enough for a round of applause).   Ran Blake’s discriminating pianism is at one and the same time full of empathy and supremely no-nonsense, so easy to integrate in our harmonic consciousness. “Mahler Noir” is a tutorial in digital restraint and control of the resonant colours of the instrument; we forget anything ruinous for life and let notes and chords act as photographs of serene privacy, similar to a lonely walk on the shoreline in an unclouded autumn day. His communication with Serpa is imbued with insightful tact and wisdom, a sensible way of accompanying vocals that frames, embraces and captions without forgetting that everything comes from stillness after all.

All About Jazz interview by Hrayr Attarian

Sara Serpa: A Musical Journey

Sara Serpa

Vocalist and composer Sara Serpa is one of the most original and innovative musicians to emerge since the turn of the century. She has already made an indelible mark on the modern music scene in the span of a mere four years. Her unique style of vocalese allows her to utilize the full range of her exquisite and clear voice with the agility of an instrumentalist and stand out of the crowd as a sublime interpreter and a bold improviser. Her original pieces, meanwhile, reflect an imaginative approach to composition that matches her spontaneous creativity. Her critically acclaimed debut, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008), showcased her band-leading abilities as she headed a sextet of superlatively talented players, including the inimitable saxophonist Greg Osby.

A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Serpa studied classical piano and voice as a teenager. While in college, pursuing a degree in social work, she was drawn to jazz and augmented her musical education at the school affiliated with Lisbon’s Hot Club Jazz. After graduation, she moved to Boston and enrolled first at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and then the New England Conservatory, earning a Master’s degree in jazz performance in 2008. Almost immediately Afterwards, she moved to New York and fast established herself as one of the freshest and most versatile performers in jazz.

Her adventurous yet disciplined approach to music brought about her career’s meteoric rise. Her second album, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010), a collaborative effort with her mentor and friend, pianist Ran Blake is a haunting and sparse expression of complex musical ideas with often a cinematic flair. An avid bibliophile Serpa drew inspiration from her favorite literary works for her third release as a leader, Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011). The dynamic, sophisticated and memorable record lead to her gracing the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of Jazziz magazine.

Her latest, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012), is her second session with Blake, a set of live duets recorded in Lisbon.

All About Jazz: Aurora is a sparse and hauntingly beautiful work and your second collaboration with Ran Blake; can you tell us about this live date in Lisbon?

Sara Serpa: Thank you, it makes me happy that you like it and enjoyed listening to it. This was the second time Ran came to Lisbon to perform, and it was a great experience, since we had an amazing hall and piano to record the album. We decided to do it in two sessions; one was the day before the concert, and then the concert itself. The day of the concert was an extremely sad day, as it was the day we heard of Bernardo Sassetti’s tragic death. Bernardo was an incredible Portuguese pianist and he wrote the liner notes for our first album, Camera Obscura. We were very emotional on that day.

AAJ: Ran Blake, of course is well known for his work with adventurous vocalists, what was it like having him as a mentor?

SS: The mentorship evolved into a great friendship. Ran is one of my best friends, and one of the most generous musicians I have ever met. Also, he is a musician that loves singers. It’s always unpredictable to sing with him, and I do enjoy those moments of not knowing what will happen and going with the flow. I feel it’s very important to learn with our elders. The way they perceive, listen and learned music is really different and deep. Ran Blake has incredible ears and that’s the most important thing he tries to pass on to his students—teach your ear, learn music by ear, listen above all.

AAJ: On both your studio recording with Blake, Camera Obscura and the live Aurora you cover an elegantly broad variety of standards and originals. How did you choose those particular songs?

SS: The choice of standards has been a bit accidental, but always follows our taste. Either these are songs that Ran loves and suggests we play, songs that I love or songs that we both love.

AAJ: What was the difference for you between the two recordings? How did each setting affect your spontaneous creativity?

SS: The first album was a big adventure for me. I had been singing with Ran in his private studio for a year, and we had built a repertoire, but going into a recording session studio was kind of crystallizing that moment. There wasn’t much pressure, it was more like let’s see what comes out. We did in two days, rarely did more than a take on each song, and it was recorded with very minimal equipment. Still, it sounds great, due to the work of Pete Rende, who mixed it and really understood the sound we were looking for. Aurora was more planned, as we were preparing a concert as well. We also played along with three movies scenes, and that was completely improvised (Dr. Mabuse is one example of it). We decided also that each one should prepare a solo piece. But having an audience definitely changes the moment, is gives you more adrenaline. I felt like I was sharing our duo bareness with a very big hall, full of people.

AAJ: You come from a country with rich musical and particularly song heritage. How did that influence your own development as a vocalist?

SS: Curiously, Fado didn’t influence me at all until I moved to the United States. I only started listening to Fado around 2006 or so. My musical education started with classical music, and although there were other genres played at my house, like Brazilian music, rock, and later on in my teens, more punk and electronic music, Fado wasn’t that much present. I recently understood that Fado was associated with the dictatorship in Portugal that ended in 1974 and my parents were part of the generation who fought against this regime, so naturally they did not listen to Fado.

AAJ: Having had western classical training ,what attracted you to improvised music and particularly jazz?

SS: I studied piano for 10 years and studied classical singing as well. And during all those years, I was always afraid of failing in any musical context. Going to a jazz school and entering this new world opened many doors for me, as I could use all my musical skills and impulses and still create something, interacting with other musicians. To learn harmony and improvisation was something that unfortunately I never explored while at the Lisbon Conservatory, and once I started understanding more about it, it allowed me to find my own style and voice within it. And jazz, it’s such a sophisticated music. It is so complex and advanced, from [trumpeter/singer] Louis Armstrong to [singer] Abbey Lincoln.Its social context and message was also something that attracted me, as there was such a vital energy about the way the old school musicians played.

AAJ: What musicians and records influenced your growth as an artist?

SS: Some musicians that influenced my growth as an artist were my teachers: Ran Blake, [pianist] Danilo Pérez, Greg Osby, and [singer] Dominique Eade. Not only they are amazing musicians, but also they are amazing musicians who have their own voice in the jazz world. Ran Blake and Danilo Perez really gave me wings to fly, encouraging me and giving me so many opportunities to be a better musician. They also taught me the social importance of the music we are making, and through their brightness and talent, showed me a very human side of jazz. . Greg Osby listened to my music and gave me a lot of opportunities to perform and record with his band, and basically he introduced me to the NY scene, when I joined him at the Vanguard—that was a great school as well. Dominique Eade welcomed me in Boston and opened the NEC doors to me, accepting me as her student, while I was searching for a creative environment. Generosity, competence, trust and solidarity is something very important in music and all of them in their own way, taught me that.

It’s hard to name some records. I can name musicians who influenced me as student, at school: Miles Davis (with his second quintet), John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Hermeto Pascoal, Theo Bleckmann, Paul Motian, Tom Jobim, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong. Chico Buarque, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln, Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Turner, Vardan Ovsepian, André Matos, Maria João … but the list keeps changing, and coming back and forth, each month, each year, as the growth never stops….

AAJ: What are your “desert island” discs and why?

SS: Oh, this is a tough question. To explain why I love certain music… here are a few. Bu these days, with the iPod, do I really need just to pick a few?

Carmen McRae—Bittersweet (Koch, 1964)
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong—Ella & Louis (Verve, 1956)
Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn—Brahms Four Hand Piano Music Vol. 4 Ein Deustches Requiem (Naxos, 1999)
Tom Jobim—Matita Perê (Polygram, 1973)
Sarah Vaughan—Live at Mr. Kelly’s (Emarcy, 1957)
Pixies—Come On Pilgrim (4AD, 1987)
Farafina—Fasco Denou (Real World, 1993)
Miles Davis—Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968)
Charlie Haden—The Golden Number (A&M, 1977)
Ran Blake—Wende (Owl, 1976)
Deerhoof—Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl, 2011)
Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell—Sound of Love (Winter & Winter, 1995)
Béla Bartók}}— Bartók Plays Bartók (Pearl, 1995}
Milton Nascimento—Milton (EMI, 1970)
Abbey Lincoln—Straight Ahead (Candid, 1961)
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane—Live at the Five Spot (Blue Note, 1958)
Meredith Monk—Impermanence (ECM, 2008)
Duke Ellington—Piano Reflections (Capitol, 1953)
Johann Sebastian Bach—The Art of the Fugue

AAJ: What were your experiences coming from Lisbon to Boston and then to New York? If so how did those experiences impact your artistic development?

SS: It’s very hard to describe my experiences coming from Portugal to the USA. Just try to imagine coming from a small school in Lisbon, that doesn’t have more than 200 students, to Berklee, where you have 4,000 students from all over the world. And to be alone for the first time in a foreign country, with the ideal of studying music. With tough winters in Boston…and then going to NEC where I met wonderful teachers who really encouraged me and supported my music, like Danilo Pérez, Dominique Eade and Ran Blake. This all meant an opening of my mind, beyond what I could imagine. I was able to explore and work hard on my music, in a really focused way. And learn even more about jazz, from direct sources.

And then New York, where there are so many musicians, so many people, and where the scene is so competitive. And then you have to pay your bills, you have to keep working on your music, it’s like a positive struggle. It taught me that nothing is for granted, and if you really want something to happen, it has to come from you and not from others. And there are so many incredible musicians in this city that inspire me and teach me every day. To be in New York helped me to see things in a different perspective. The goal is just to keep doing the music I love, be a better musician and person.

AAJ: Your debut album, Praia, contains intriguing original compositions, presumably inspired by Cape Verdean themes, what is your connection to Cape Verde?

SS: I wonder why you ask me about Cape Verde, as there’s nothing related to it on that record. Praia means “beach” in Portuguese, and it was what I missed the most during my first years in Boston, and that feeling gave some impulse composing that music. Those songs were my first attempts of writing music, and they had a stamp on it, which was “I miss my home, I miss my friends, but I also love my new life here.”

AAJ: It is quite interesting and unique that your compositions on Mobile reflected the spirit of literary works yet your singing was primarily wordless vocalese. What inspired you in those particular eclectic mix of books?

SS: It was very random. A few months after moving to New York I realized I was only reading books from travelers and adventurous people, about travelers’ struggles, about discovering the unknown. And maybe that was related with what I was experiencing, being in NY and finding my way of living in this city. Each book was a revelation for me, and I loved reading all of them. And I thought that maybe I could try to recreate a scene or a memory from each book into music. I was fortunate to be able to explore this music with [guitarist] André Matos, [pianist] Kris Davis, [bassist] Ben Street and [drummer] Ted Poor, as I think they really understood each song and played it beautifully.

AAJ: Currently you perform leading your own group as well as in duos either with Ran Blake or André Matos. What are the different challenges inherent in each setting?

SS: For the duo setting, there are similar aspects that need to be present: communication, good time, listening, and empathy. We have to be a team.

Singing with Ran Blake is a time travel for me, as there is so much tradition and knowledge in his playing. It always has the surprise element—we might play the same song several times, and although I feel we are following a plot (just like a movie plot), sometimes we do a shorter version, some other times longer, sometimes we modulate to another key, sometimes he stops playing or throws a chord that completely blows me away. At the beginning it was very hard for me, and I realized I had to be really strong when singing the melody of a song, so that he could play whatever he felt like behind me without losing my direction.

Today, I love that feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. I love Ran’s touch, his use of pedals creates another dimension of sound, and besides all this, there’s a lots of experience, life and love in his playing. And although I am singing the melody, I feel I am following him all the time, or almost like a game, sometimes I lead and some other times he leads. His ears are incredible, and that allows to a lot of creativity in his comping, even when playing the simplest melody. Songs and words are the key with this duo, and singing with Ran woke me to this world of the words and to its power. To convey the story, and to follow Ran’s plot for each song is the most important. Also, Ran and I have many years of difference and come from different continents—I always feel I am learning something new.

With André Matos, feel we are both coming from the same place, meaning we have the same background; history and we play a lot together. We live together, we travel together—so much of that communication and shared moments comes out through our music. We also play a lot of original material, and finding my own space in that material is challenging, because I never do the same thing on every song. Sometimes I accompany him, sometimes I don’t sing, sometimes I improvise—to find that balance of when to sing and when to be silent is challenging in some way. Also, there’s a lot of nakedness in a duo setting, we can’t hide behind any other instrument, and we have to accept what comes out without being very judgmental.

AAJ: Do you also engage in other art forms? If so which ones?

SS: I love photography. I went to an Art College for two years, so I draw, I paint and I take photographs. And I love writing as well. But I’ve never exposed it the way I do with the music.

AAJ: Lastly can you tell us a little bit about your Crossing Oceans project?

SS: Crossing Oceans is still a work in progress. It features voice, trombone, tenor sax, guitar, bass (and possibly some percussion). I sing mostly in Portuguese. It is like a story about my perception of Fado, and its origins, that are deeply embedded with the history of Portugal. It started out of my curiosity about Fado music, as I wanted to know more about this song form (I never listened to it before I moved to US) .

My research made me travel in time and think about things that are key to my country’s history, but that no one talks about: the slave trade from Africa to Brazil, the music that came from Brazil to Portugal in the 18th century, (which is when Fado appeared in Lisbon)…so many things. So it’s a Fado project but it’s also my project, it’s a creative approach to it. It is a story told through music.

Selected Discography

Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012)
Sara Serpa Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011)
Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010)
Sara Serpa, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008)

Touching Extremes review by by Massimo Ricci

CF 264SARA SERPA / RAN BLAKE – Aurora (CF 264)
Clean Feed   Sara Serpa: voice; Ran Blake: piano   One of the things that kill jazz’s genuine sparkle is the showing of a disproportionate conversancy with a given inventory of techniques, which is the archetypal behaviour of many celebrated tricksters. A strong point in favour of Portuguese singer Sara Serpa is the lack of mannerism in that sense: the voice is apparently released devoid of excessive care about a faultless tone, not pretending a provocativeness that is not in her strings. Throughout Aurora she sings innocently, pretty much from the heart, which is more than OK when the ears have grown exhausted of performers who are hiding a mammoth ego under the alleged sheen of fatigued standards (though the “a cappella” rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” presented here is creditable enough for a round of applause).   Ran Blake’s discriminating pianism is at one and the same time full of empathy and supremely no-nonsense, so easy to integrate in our harmonic consciousness. “Mahler Noir” is a tutorial in digital restraint and control of the resonant colours of the instrument; we forget anything ruinous for life and let notes and chords act as photographs of serene privacy, similar to a lonely walk on the shoreline in an unclouded autumn day. His communication with Serpa is imbued with insightful tact and wisdom, a sensible way of accompanying vocals that frames, embraces and captions without forgetting that everything comes from stillness after all.

Les Inrockuptibles review and interview

CF 264Ran Blake / Sara Serpa – Aurora (CF 264)

Cinquante ans après un premier album de légende avec la chanteuse Jeanne Lee, le pianiste jazz Ran Blake remet ça avec Sara Serpa. Beauté. Critique et écoute. 

La vieille légende en personne ouvre la porte de l’appartement parisien où il reçoit les journalistes. Le pianiste américain Ran Blake a 77 ans, il est physiquement usé, et se déplace avec un déambulateur. Passée la surprise, on peut y voir une certaine logique : déambuler est un mot qui va bien à Ran Blake. Un demi-siècle qu’il pratique, laissant ses doigts divaguer sur le clavier d’un piano – une oreille distraite dirait qu’il manque des touches, ou que le pianiste en a remplacé certaines par du silence.

Son premier album, sorti en 1962, est légendaire : The Newest Sound Around, avec la chanteuse Jeanne Lee, sommet inaugural de jazz blanc, minimal, funambule, inspiré par les chansons, la musique classique et le cinéma, plus cérébral que sanguin. Depuis, le grand styliste a sorti une trentaine d’albums en formations diverses et distillé son savoir au conservatoire de musique de Boston pendant près de trente ans. Pas un acharné de la production, ni une tête de gondole du jazz. De temps en temps, un album vient nous rappeler l’importance gracieuse de Ran Blake.

Il y a trois ans, c’était le méditatif Driftwoods. Aujourd’hui, c’est l’évanescent Aurora, en duo avec la chanteuse portugaise Sara Serpa. Une jeunette, une ancienne élève. Sara Serpa vient d’arriver et s’installe dans le canapé près de son mentor. “La première fois que j’ai entendu la musique de Ran, c’était au conservatoire de Boston, c’était la chanson Laura de son album avec Jeanne Lee. Je me suis dit “Mais qui est ce pianiste qui invente des mondes derrière les mélodies ?” J’ai demandé à être son élève au semestre suivant. Je suis allée dans son studio, plein de livres et de DVD, on a regardé des extraits de Deux mains, la nuit, de Robert Siodmak.” Le film noir de Siodmak est fondateur pour Ran Blake : à l’âge de 12 ans, il l’a vu dix-huit fois en vingt jours, et en a tiré la quintessence de sa musique.

Sara poursuit : “Puis il m’a demandé de chanter a cappella. J’avais peur, je n’étais pas habituée à chanter sans accompagnement. C’était la première leçon de Ran : connaître une mélodie à fond, pouvoir la chanter seule.” Ran Blake ajoute : “On a fait une merveilleuse version de Strange Fruit !” Elle est sur l’album et Sara la chante a cappella.

C’est tout le charme de ce duo (Aurora est leur deuxième album ensemble, deux ans après le plus sombre Camera Obscura) : la voix joueuse de Sara Serpa et le piano cinéphile de Ran Blake, qui s’écoutent, conversent, improvisent et rêvent en toute confiance. Sur l’album, il y a donc quelques classiques du jazz vocal, mais aussi un fado, un hommage à Malher, un autre au Dr Mabuse de Fritz Lang et encore un autre à Hitchcock. Ran Blake : “La musique autour des films, c’est ma passion. Mais j’adore aussi Stevie Wonder, Al Green, la musique orientale que j’aurais aimé étudier si j’étais plus jeune et que j’avais le temps… Je ne me souviens pas de tous les disques que j’ai enregistrés, mais j’ai encore des projets. C’est la variété de tout ça qui me garde en vie.”

Plus de quarante-cinq ans séparent Ran Blake et Sara Serpa. Mais ils semblent se retrouver comme deux enfants émerveillés par leur première séance de cinéma. “J’adore jouer dans la pénombre. Et je regarde très peu le clavier, je préfère regarder Sara”, conclut le vieux gentleman dans un sourire, du bon côté de la vie.

Jornal do Brasil review by Luiz Orlando Carneiro

Ran Blake e Sara Serpa: uma associação rara no tempo e no espaço
O velho pianista “cult” e a jovem vocalista lisboeta lançam o CD ‘Aurora’

CF 264Sara Serpa/Ran Blake – Aurora (CF 264)
Ran Blake, 77 anos, não é somente um pianista muito original e requintado. É um músico cult, pioneiro daquele conúbio jazz-música erudita que o velho companheiro Gunther Schuller batizou de Third stream music. Ele foi, durante mais de quatro décadas, professor do New England Conservatory, e é detentor de uma MacArthur “Genius grant” – bolsa-distinção só concedida a talentos de “originalidade e dedicação extraordinárias em suas atividades criativas”. Desde adolescente, é fascinado pelo clima e pelas trilhas sonoras dos chamados films noirs. Não por acaso, um dos seus discos mais notáveis, Duo en noir (Between the lines, 1999), em parceria com o trompetista Enrico Rava, é inspirado em Alfred Hitchcock-Bernard Hermann (Psicose), Otto Preminger-David Raskin (Laura) e outras duplas (direção-música) de filmes policiais do gênero.

Contudo, na maioria dos diversos duos da discografia de Ran Blake não estão ao seu lado instrumentistas, mas sim cantoras. Ou melhor, vocalistas que com ele interagem na “transformação de canções clássicas em intensas e dramáticas experiências”, como anotou Thomas Cunniffe (Jazz History Online). O pianista começou a formar esses duos, na década de 60, com a vanguardista Jeanne Lee (1939-2000), sendo registro antológico dessa associação o álbum You stepped out of a cloud (Owl, 1989). Mais recentemente, ele gravou duas primorosas sessões para o selo Red Piano com Christiane Correa – vocalista nascida na Índia, em Bombaim, e radicada nos Estados Unidos desde 1979 (Out of the shadows, 2009; Down here below, Tribute to Abbey Lincoln, 2012). E ainda o CD Whirlpool (Jazz Project, 2010) com a já renomada cantora Dominique Eade, igualmente professora do New England Conservatory (NEC).

A outra vocalista que caiu nas graças de mestre Ran Blake é a portuguesa Sara Serpa, 33 anos, sua aluna, que fez a viagem (sem volta) para Nova York com escala em Boston (Berklee College of Music e NEC). Dona de uma voz (mezzo-soprano) que o seu mentor considera “mágica”, cristalina como água de nascente, a cantora portuguesa impressionou também vivamente o grande saxofonista Greg Osby: “Ela possui uma flexibilidade e uma destreza das quais não sou testemunha há um alarmante período de tempo”.

Em 2010, Blake e Serpa gravaram o álbum Camara obscura (Inner Circle), com excelente recepção por parte dos críticos, como o do blog Lucid Culture, que assim se referiu à performance da jovem lisboeta: “Ela aborda as canções com clareza e vulnerabilidade devastadoras, sem qualquer adorno ou enfeite, mas ao mesmo tempo absolutamente resoluta, sem nenhum temor”. Sara Serpa e Ran Blake em ‘Aurora’ O duo volta agora com o CD Aurora, lançamento da Clean Feed – etiqueta portuguesa de renome internacional, basicamente dedicada ao free jazz.

Trata-se de uma gravação feita ao vivo, em sua maior parte num concerto realizado em Lisboa, em maio do ano findo, constante de 12 faixas, das quais duas são solos do pianista e da vocalista, respectivamente: Mahler noir (8m), improvisação especulativa, densa e tensa, cheia de pressentimentos, de terças e quintas diminuídas, fragmentárias, em clima de suspense; Strange fruit (3m55), totalmente a capella, em forma de recitativo que dramatiza, corajosamente, a célebre canção de Billie Holiday que denunciou, em 1939, os linchamentos no Sul dos Estados Unidos – corpos negros pendentes das árvores como “estranhos frutos”.

O contraste entre a voz “nua”, sem vibrato, de Sara Serpa e as invenções harmônico-melódicas de Ran Blake – que não “acompanha” a vocalista, mas a instiga, interroga-a, e “comenta” suas respostas – é constante em todas as outras faixas. Principalmente em Dr. Mabuse (5m15), Moonride  (3m10), The band played on (2m25) e Fine and dandy (2m55). Neste standard, em tempo rápido, o pianista abre o jogo com um “prelúdio” de mais de um minuto; em Mabuse, Sara usa a voz como instrumento, sem palavras ou versos, numa peça de puro “jazz noir”. O duo homenageia Abbey Lincoln em duas baladas de seu repertório: When Autumn sings (3m10) e Love lament (5m25).

San Diego Reader best of 2012 list by Robert Bush

2012 was a banner year for recorded jazz, if the more than 100 CD’s that arrived in my mail box are any indication. Even still, I’m sure I missed a few that might have bowled me over–but that’s o.k., since I found it impossible to whittle this “best-of-list” down to a top-ten. Instead, I’m entering 14 albums that made an indelible impression.   This isn’t a “best of San Diego” kind of list, although there are many SD connections here–which says a lot about the rich-in-talent residents, (and former residents) that populate the local jazz landscape.

Jason Robinson -Tiresian Symmetry (Cuneiform)
Nine of the best players on the East Coast scene ripping through Robinson’s difficult charts and making it all sound joyful.

CF 250Elliott Sharp Trio – Aggregat (Clean Feed)
Bracing, free jazz that takes no prisoners. Sharp plays guitar and saxophone and is ably supported by bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith. A lot of mayhem, but it all swings, somehow.


Slumgum w/ Hugh Ragin- The Sky His Own (9 Winds)
Slumgum is Jon Armstrong on saxophone, Rory Cowal on piano, David Tranchina on bass and Trevor Anderies on drums. As a unit they are superb, and the addition of Ragin’s soaring trumpet work make this essential.

Diane Moser & Mark Dresser -Duetto (CIMP)
Moser can straddle the divide between kinetic energy and lyric contemplation and Dresser follows her like a shadow, then steps into other dimensions. Intimate listening.

CF 253Hugo Carvalhais – Particula (Clean Feed)
I’d never heard of bassist Carvalhais before, but Particula is a stunning set of totally modern music, with saxophonist Emile Parisien, violinist Dominique Pifarely, pianist Gabriel Pinto and drummer Mario Costa. I found it hard to stop listening to this disc.

Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway – Play Braxton (Tzadik)
Braxton’s longest running rhythm section team up to revisit the visionary music of the master composer. Lock-tight, and wild, each member brings an individual force into motion.

CF 264Sara Serpa- Ran Blake – Aurora (Clean Feed)
This is a sublime pairing. Serpa’s voice is pitch-perfect, crystal clear and utterly devoid of artifice. Blake’s purity of harmonic conception leaves plenty of space.


Vinny Golia Sextet – Abstractions & Retrocausalities (9 Winds)
Like Mingus meeting Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, this disc rocks and swings hard. Golia’s mastery is well supported by trumpeter Dan Rosenboom, saxophonist Gavin Templeton, guitarist Alex Noice, bassist Jon Armstrong and drummer Andrew Lessman.

Diane Moser – WDMO (Planet Arts)
Moser the pianist and composer are well documented on this release which spans the gamut between Latin grooves and freer material. Excellent cast featuring Peter Sprague, Marguerita Page, Rob Thorsen, Duncan Moore, Mary Redhouse, Will Parsons and Chad Moser.

Vlatkovich Tryyo – Pershing Woman (pfMENTUM)
Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich tears it up on this blistering live set with Jonathan Golove on electric cello and the explosive Damon Short on drums.

Dan Clucas Lost Iguana Ensemble – Do You Know The Ways (Plutonium Records)
Trumpeter Clucas offers up an entirely original set of music here with virtuosi contributions from drummers Brian Christopherson and Dave Wayne, cellist Jessica Catron and the tuba of Mark Weaver. Definitely worth seeking out.

Zen Widow -Screaming In Daytime (pfMENTUM)
The trio of Garth Powell on drums, Gianni Gebbia on saxophone and Mathew Goodheart on piano get a serious injection from special guest Wadada Leo Smith.

Ian Tordella – Tragic Comedy (Self Produced)
Tordella puts together an unusual group with the twin guitars of Jeff Miles and Joey Carano, fueled by the deep rhythm of Danny Weller and Richard Sellers. Great tunes.

Third Story -Third Story (Self Produced)
Bassist Danny Weller assembled this group to explore ECM-type textures, and with piano powerhouse Joshua White, guitarist Jeff Miles and drummer Jens Kuross, a sublime set of pensive compositions unfold.

Lucid Culture End best of 2012 list by Delarue

The 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2012

Assembling a year-end list that’s going to get a lot of traffic demands a certain degree of responsibility: to be paying attention, and to be keeping an eye on what’s lurking in the shadows because that’s usually where the action is. Gil Evans knew that, and that’s why he’s on this one.   As pretty much everybody knows, the final Dave Brubeck Quartet live show surfaced this year, as did the earliest known Wes Montgomery recordings, a tasty couple of rare Bill Evans live sets and a big box set of previously unreleased Mingus. The reason why they’re not on this list is because they’re on everybody else’s…and because they’re easy picks. This is an attempt to be a little more adventurous, to cast a wider net, to help spread the word about current artists whose work is every bit as transcendent. Obviously, there are going to be glaring omissions here: even the most rabid jazz advocate can only digest a few hundred albums a year at the most. And much as Henry Threadgill’s Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp and the historic Sam Rivers Trio’s Reunion: Live in New York are phenomenal albums, they both fell off the list since each has received plenty of praise elsewhere.

1. Wadada Leo Smith – Ten Freedom Summers
2. Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans
3. Hafez Modirzadeh – Post-Chromodal Out!
CF 2644. Ran Blake & Sara Serpa – Aurora
The second collaboration from the iconic noir pianist and the eclectic singer/composer is every bit as intense and otheworldly as their 2010 collaboration, Camera Obscura, and considerably more diverse. This one’s taken mostly from a concert  in Serpa’s native Portugal, a mix of classics, brilliant obscurities, icy/lurid cinematic themes and a riveting a-cappella take of Strange Fruit. It’s out on Clean Feed.
5. David Fiuczynski – Planet Microjam
6. Neil Welch – Sleeper
7. The Fab Trio – History of Jazz in Reverse
8. Giacomo Merega – Watch the Walls
9. Gregg August – Four By Six
10. Orrin Evans – Flip the Script
11. The Fred Hersch Trio – Alive at the Vanguard
11. Brian Charette – Music for Organ Sextette
12. Tia Fuller – Angelic Warrior
13. Guy Klucevsek –  The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour
14. Old Time Musketry – Different Times
15. Endemic Ensemble – Lunar
16. The Danny Fox Trio – The One Constant
17. Slumgum – Quardboard Flavored Fiber
18. Catherine Russell – Strictly Romancin’
19. Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto – Conversations
20. Bass X3 – Transatlantic