Dan Block

If the term "musician's musician" refers to a high level of musicianship and a much proven versatility, then multi-instrumentalist Dan Block certainly fits the bill. In a long career, Block has played traditional, mainstream, and post bop jazz, as well as Latin, Klezmer, and Classical music, and has performed with artists such as Charles Mingus Toshiko Akiyoshi, Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Dave Liebman, Ralph Sutton, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Bobby Short, and Rosemary Clooney. Following his standout 2010 release, Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine, Block now displays his stylistic flexibility in a series of duets with pianists Ted Rosenthal and Rosanno Sportiello, guitarists Paul Meyers, Matt Munisteri and Saul Rubin , vocalist Catherine Russell, saxophonist Scott Robinson, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, and bassist Lee Hudson (with drummer Tim Horner on the only trio track). The title of this CD, Duality, immediately brings to mind two other recordings by that name, one featuring duets between guitarist Peter Leitch and pianist John Hicks (1995), and the other a meeting of pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. and guitarist Larry Coryell (2011). Block's session, with its variety of dance partners, is at least as good as those, which is saying a lot.

Jerome Kern's "Long Ago and Far Away" is graced by Block on tenor with Rosenthal. Block's tone here is reminiscent of Warne Marsh, and his variations on the theme at the start are a brilliant concoction. His easeful solo packs a subtle punch as he thoroughly explores the melodic and harmonic contours of the standard. Rosenthal's stalwart comping, prancing solo, and resilient trades with Block prior to the reprise complete this exceptional interpretation. Walter Donaldson's 1928 rarity, "I'm Bringing a Red Red Rose," is given a creeping, insinuating treatment by Block's tenor and Hudson's bass. The leader solos this time with a breathy Ben Webster-like silkiness over walking bass, before Hudson's delightfully perky improv. "Chorino for Dennis" is dedicated to the late bassist Dennis Irwin, and Block shows that Anat Cohen and Paquito D'Rivera aren't the only jazz clarinetists adept at playing chorinos with glittering flair. Guitarist Meyers, who excels at Brazilian music, is Block's more than capable associate on this intoxicating selection.

Block's deep-throated tenor and Russell's rich, sensuous, and supple vocal complement each other flawlessly on Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." The tenor's winding obbligatos enhance Russell's fervent reading of Carl Sigman's lyrics, and her opening and later wordless interludes are almost operatic in their effect. Block's own "Out of Touch" is portrayed by his bass clarinet and Munisteri's National Steel guitar. This is an engaging piece that Munisteri introduces seemingly as a country blues, but then Block enters with a theme similar to "O Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." His mastery and control of the bass clarinet is admirable and his storytelling solo flows with natural assurance prior to the track drifting off into the ether as if it was luckily captured on some far away radio station. "Pitter Panther Patter" is inspired by the 1940 Duke Ellington-Jimmy Blanton duo recording. Block's clarinet and Robinson's baritone interact with harmonious precision, with asides, on the theme before gravitating to trades and contrapuntal diversions that are both playful and stirring.

For Dimitri Shostakovitch's "Lyric Waltz" (from his Dance of the Dolls suite), Block states the melody alone on clarinet with a purity of tone, but becomes more earthy in his swinging solo, as Sportiello's rambunctious striding piano boosts the joyful vibe in his accompaniment and own rippling statement. The twosome's charged exchanges and out chorus are seamlessly executed and never less than rewarding. Bix Beiderbecke's 1931 piano work, "In the Dark," opens with Sherman's atonal vibes vamp that he maintains as Block's alto bursts on the scene, only to quickly turn warmly serene in a Lee Konitz mode. Block's nimble arpeggios and single-note runs, combined with the persistent sparseness of Sherman's support, accentuate the beauty of Bix's piece. The vibraphonist's solo segment recalls the gentle lyricism of Gary Burton, but the pair's concluding emphatic excursion in counterpoint heats things up until a spent diminuendo. "My Own Morning," Jule Styne's tune from the 1967 Broadway musical Hallelujah, Baby!, is wistfully handled by Block on baritone at the beginning and end, with Rosenthal in rapt allegiance. Block's expressiveness is such that he sounds very much like a human voice, and the pianist's paraphrase in the middle part is passionately and movingly delivered.

This version of Claus Ogerman's "Jazz Samba" is prompted by the one on the 1966 Bill Evans-Jim Hall album, Intermodulation. Block on baritone and Rubin on guitar alternate melodic passages with jabbing, off-kilter, contrapuntal forays. Block's refreshingly flowing solo evokes both Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, as Rubin lays down an insistent samba-inflected backdrop. The leader's levitating out chorus regrettably fades out all too soon. George Gershwin's 1922 opus, "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," is the sole trio number, with Hudson and drummer Horner along for the ride. Horner's martial intro is still ongoing as Block's tenor appears to articulate the theme. When Block's solo takes on an intense Coltrane-like modal pace, Horner turns to Elvin Jones style provocations and Hudson joins in at a furious tempo. Block steps back to allow the drummer free reign in advance of a truncated but cleverly resolving coda.

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Scott Albin