Close to four decades have passed since Dominique Eade transferred to the New England Conservatory expressly for the opportunity to study with Ran Blake. And it’s been six years since Eade and Blake issued Whirlpool, their first collaborative album and a masterpiece of voice-piano legerdemain on par with Blake’s classic 1962 union with Jeanne Lee.
Impressive as Whirlpool remains, it pales in comparison to the bold, variegated brilliance of Town and Country. Long celebrated for his bracing dexterity, Blake’s genre-blurring mastery of jazz, blues, classical and gospel is essential to a mélange as intensely diverse as this album, recorded at NEC (where both are now on the faculty). Eighteen tracks crowded into 47 minutes, this matching of interpretive wits tiptoes in with a gentle “Lullaby” before opening up to a panoply of sentiments. A jagged reimagining of Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” bordering on hip-hop, melds with an otherworldly “Moon River,” seguing to the bleakness of “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” the towering piety of Mahalia Jackson’s “Elijah Rock” and the bereft Johnny Cash prison anthem “Give My Love to Rose.”
Rounding the midpoint with Blake’s brief, bloodcurdling “Harvest at Massachusetts General Hospital,” there are still plenty of curves ahead. The program zigzags from an angular, shadowy “Moonglow/Theme From ‘Picnic’” to a soft yet sinewy “Moonlight in Vermont” and a chilling “Goodnight, Irene”; treads slowly, darkly along Nelson Riddle’s “Open Highway”; and turns rapturous for Charles Ives’ eulogistic “Thoreau.” Artful. Mercurial. Exhilarating.