Driftwoods CD - Tompkins Square

Nearly 50 years into a distinguished recording career, jazz piano master Ran Blake releases the latest of more albums than I can count. Blake first gained reputation as accompanist to avant-garde vocalist Jeanne Lee, playing with her nearly a decade before releasing his first album, a well-named collaboration with Lee, 1963's The Newest Sound Around. That recording profoundly reimaged a number of popular tunes and jazz standards, creating a singular approach in which the pair dwelled as much on space and mood as they did on chord exploration and freeing themselves from obligatory structure.

Blake's work has subsequently lighted in the territory of many jazz movements, free jazz, post-bop, avant-garde and, notably, third stream, among them. Readily acknowledged by the man, his musical sensitivities have been pervasively influenced by his appreciation of vocalists, and Driftwoods serves as tribute to many of his favorites. The 14 tracks here range from impressions of Sheila Jordan's take on "You Are My Sunshine" (the melody line bright, crisp, and fairly straightforward) to Billie Holiday's interpretation of Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy," to Sarah Vaughn's late-career cover of Quincy Jones' "Pawnbroker."

And the choice of tackling a Jones song is not out of the blue. The second enduring influence in Blake's career, and on this disc, is an abiding appreciation for film music. So, it's no surprise that noir-ish mood and texture are the co-stars on Driftwoods. Readings slip from surprisingly orthodox (the aforementioned "Sunshine") to flirtations with oblivion. And to that end, interpretations of Holiday's "Strange Fruit " and Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" (actually written not by Williams but by Leon Payne) are unrecognizable reveries, Blake's nevertheless eloquent piano as evanescent and fetching as morning mist.

By Michael Meade




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