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Ran Blake

Ran Blake

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s admonition that less is more has precious few adherents in jazz. The whole art of jazz brinkmanship has centered around raising the ceiling on information overload and adding to a litany of musical references that now requires a lifetime to digest. Players’ overload endeavors have evolved over the decades, and now being the fastest gun in the West, which Sonny Rollins lampooned pithily on the cover of Way Out West, is no longer the game. Mo’ more is now measured by the multitasking exemplified by Dave Douglas in the late ’90s, when barely a quarter elapsed without his releasing a new CD by a new band. Generally, jazz artists who exemplify van der Rohe’s postulate are relegated to the margins.

The margins have proven to be the perfect vantage for Ran Blake. Since recording the legendary The Newest Sound Around (RCA, 1961) with the late, great vocalist Jeanne Lee, the pianist has honed an aesthetic that is the antithesis of jazz’s prevailing pyrotechnic postures. Blake’s virtuosity is not expressed through quicksilver speed-even his longtime champion Gunther Schuller has weighed in on Blake’s technical limitations-but through touch and shading. As a result, Blake has a singular ability to make a single note speak volumes about the human condition, and to turn silence into a withering cry.

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