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May 2006

Ran Blake
All That Is Tied
Tompkins Square

You either get Ran Blake or not. While I respect Blake’s courageous, uncompromised half-century of dedication to his enigmatic muse, I am a “not.”

Blake’s unique creative process for solo piano—clashing, colliding chords, empty spaces, stunning intervallic leaps, dynamic swings from thunder to bare audibility—can create epiphanies that his supporters find revelatory. I find it hard to sustain attention for an entire album or even an entire piece. For me, Blake’s momentary isolated impulses impose themselves upon the piano. They are a series of marginally related events that contain no sense of journey and draw remarkably little beauty from one of mankind’s most beautiful musical instruments.

A further challenge with All That Is Tied is that it “revisits original compositions from throughout Blake’s career.” In previous albums, his undeniable musical erudition and his unusual methods have enabled him to record some fascinating interpretations of the works of other composers, like Gershwin and Ellington. But a program of unrelieved, halting, gnarly Blake compositions makes for an austere evening.

This album is Blake’s 35th, recorded 40 years to the month after his first solo record (Plays Solo Piano on ESP). There is no pleasure in reporting that for me it is the longest 43 minutes of the jazz year to date.

Originally published in May 2006
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