Monday, February 11, 2013

Sara Serpa, Ran Blake, Aurora

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.

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