Friday, September 24, 2010

The Company is Two

Camera Obscura - Ran Blake & Sara Serpa (Inner Circle Music) - Short (under 30 minutes) and often bittersweet, this is such a fine diversion.  Blake plays blues like a painter working around the canvass.  As Serpa addresses the melody of "When Sunny Gets Blue", the pianist suggests clouds racing across the sky, dropping a bit of stride, getting a bit atonal near the finish.  The playful "Our Fair Cat" shows a lighter side of both the vocalist and pianist while "Folhas", based on a poem by Eugenio de Andrade (with music by Serpa)  has a gravity and weight.  Serpa sings in Portuguese and the words easily slide off her tongue. Sammy Cahn's "I Should Care" and Thelonious Monk's "Nutty"is dedicated to the latter composer with the former tune given a a straight vocal reading over tolling chords and the latter living up to its name, with Blake barely suggesting the melody line, leaving a trail of notes and chordal interjections.  Serpa takes the vocal line up to the top of her range with joy. 
Despite its brevity, "Camera Obscura" is quite satisfying, making it quite easy to hit the "replay" button several times.  The musical poetry of Ran Blake's abstract playing combined with the purity and softness of Sara Serpa's voice is soothing at the end of a long day. For more information, go to Josh Jackson conducted a fine interview with the duo for WBGO's "The Checkout" and you can hear it by clicking here.

Out of the Shadows - Ran Blake & Christine Correa (Red Piano Records) - Recorded 3 months before the above CD, this duo with Christine Correa has 4 more songs (5 counting the medley), is more dramatic but no less affecting.  This vocalist has a fuller voice and Blake's playing is often more expansive.  He seems nearly symphonic on "The Thrill Is Gone" and Correa weaves the words in and out of his chordal exlorations. One hears the influence of Charles Ives' New England-flavored harmonies at the opening of "When The Band Played On", at times somber then playful - the tune morphs into "Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird", a tune the pianist first heard in the MGM movie version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray."  Correa wraps herself around the words, pulling the listener in. The power the duo gives to Max Roach's "Mendacity" makes the piece about civil rights timely in this day of political bickering and racist rhetoric.  Blake goes it alone for a short but touching reading of Country singer Steve Mardon's "This Will All Seem Funny."  As on the CD with Sare Serpa, Blake enjoys material that one might not expect to find on a program such as this as well as taking well-worn standards and giving them new life (the playful "Hi Lili Hi Lo" is one of those tracks that sounds refreshed.)
The title track opens and closes the CD.  The first version has more of a ballad feel, with Blake moving cat-like behind the rich vocal tones.  His solo in the middle is filled with long tones, big chords, sly blues riffs and a harsh then soft lead back to the vocal.  The second version is Correa by herself - here, she allows her voice to lengthen certain words, riffing on the melody but never losing the flow of the song while plumbing its emotional depths.
Ran Blake is a musician who never settles for the routine, always digging to find the different ways a melody can be played, a harmony exposed, a thought carried on.  Christine Correa also has no fear of moving a piece in an unexpected direction and seems to delight in the melodic possibilities of words.  Take a chance and explore these worlds; these journeys should pique your curiosity.  For more information, go to or

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