7 d’agost de 2017

Cocktails at Dusk, de Ran Blake

Ran Blake. Cocktails at Dusk: A Noir Tribute to Chris Connor. [s.l.]: Impulse!, 2014  (CD)

Pianist Ran Blake and singer Chris Connor have unusual commonalities. Both are hardly “household names” ever within the hippest of households yet each wields influence with an irrefutable impact. Each has a singular mode of expression in which the most (seemingly) exhausted standard can sound compellingly unique; both favor a innately cool approach rich with understatement wherein silence(s) express as much as the notes/words themselves. Both evoke shades of emotion, each can epitomize an aural counterpart/soundtrack to film noir.

Cocktails at Dusk is a tribute to legendary jazz singer Chris Connor, of whom Blake was a fan and a friend. Connor was among the last “band singers,” Swing Era vocalists essentially “featured performers” of instrumentalist-led big bands. Sinatra emerged from the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, Connor from Claude Thornhill’s and Stan Kenton’s. In the mid-1950s she struck out on her own, recording several artistically successful and big-selling albums for the Bethlehem and Atlantic labels through 1962. Connor persevered, recording for labels big and small, touring and recording steadily until her passing in August 2009. Connor’s durable sense of cool inspired singers diverse as Carol Sloane, Patricia Barber, Joni Mitchell, and Diane Schuur.

Blake’s tribute to Connor is more than another perform-the-songs-associated-with-another-artist project. Blake has taken exceptional care with this homage, judiciously using samples of Connor’s singing to give the Collective We context, a tantalizing taste of the honoree. Blake is still one of jazz’s finest minimalists (in the Thelonious Monk sense, not the Phillip Glass/Steve Reich sense)—his notes ring, reverberate, and adroitly dissipate into the ether, conveying the sadness and angst of Connor’s songs’ subject matter and the sadness that comes with knowing no more songs will be forthcoming from her. Yet there is nothing dirge-like about Blake’s interpretations of his friend’s repertoire—it’s an elegy, certainly, but also a celebration of Connor’s artistry, one musician to another. Most tracks are Blake solo, a few are duets with singer Laïka Fatien (her first time working with him) and tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford, whose big, burly, surging tone is heard on “Go ‘Way From My Window” and “Moon Ride.”

Like the music of Chris Connor, Cocktails At Dusk is a bittersweet education in an advanced, exclusive (yet open to all) college of musical knowledge and grad school of the heart.

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