Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Music Review: Dominique Eade and Ran Blake “Whirlpool”


Ran Blake delivers some of the most studied mergers of classical piano technique and performance in a jazz setting that it is hard to understand how he has escaped popular audiences attention. Teamed with the amazing vocal dexterity of vocalist, composer, lyricist and instrumental arranger Dominique Eade Whirlpool is a stunning display of jazz virtuosity. Dominique Eade delivers a vocal master class.

In the late ‘60’s / early ‘70s there was a melding of rock music with jazz, funk and R&B music giving birth to “Fusion” with artists like Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Gary Burton and even jazz luminaries such as Mile’s Davis embracing this melding of styles. Probably the most lasting effect of this marriage of jazz virtuosity and improvisation with rock music was the embrace of electronic instruments such as electric piano and synthesizer as well as effects into the jazz world. Even then, rather than being a codified musical style, fusion can be viewed as a musical tradition or approach.

More than a decade earlier, there was another kind of ‘fusion’ taking place. In 1957 composer Gunther Schuller, during a lecture at Brandeis University described a musical genre which is a synthesis of classical music and jazz. he coined this new genre of music located about halfway between jazz and classical music as “Third Stream”. Probably the most important element of Third Stream was the introduction of jazz-like improvisation into classical music.

Purists on both sides of Third Stream objected to tainting their favorite music with the other, oddly, the most vocal objections were typically made by jazz musicians who felt this was"an assault on their traditions." Schuller writes that "by designating the music as a 'separate, Third Stream,' the other two mainstreams could go about their way unaffected by the attempts at fusion." Because Third Stream draws on classical as much as jazz, it is generally required that composers and performers be proficient in both genres.

Critics have argued that Third Stream—by drawing on two very different styles—dilutes the power of each in combining them. Others reject such notions, and consider Third Stream an interesting musical development. One of these adherents was Ran Blake. And thank the muses for his vision.

Blake’s career has spanned a half century and more since he cut his first album with vocalist Jeanne Lee in 1961 with the ground breaking The Newest Sound Around. Lee was a not a rangy singer with an operatic voice, but like Billy Holiday, she could wring ever single bit of meaning and emotion from a tune. It was a perfect match since Blake, a Schuller mentored pianist,  brought the power of jazz improvisation to the music and was a perfect compliment to Lee’s voice. Since that time, Blake has redefined, or, maybe refined would be closer to the truth, the Third Stream genre. As the New England Entertainment Digest put it a few months back, “[Blake] solo piano language that blends audacious harmonic and rhythmic ideas with gospel-like fervor; a redefinition of "Third Stream" that has effectively globalized his mentor Gunther Schuller's original concept of jazz/classical merger to encompass all cultural sources; and a sonic translation of the expressionistic gestures and subconscious motivations of classic film noir.”

Thirty years or so ago, Blake was teaching at the New England Conservatory  when a young Dominique Eade arrived from Vassar at the Berklee School of Music and first heard Blake play. She was so impressed that she transferred to NEC. She says of Blake, “I was immediately attracted to his molten creativity. As surprising as his music can be, it also somehow felt inevitable." Blake was just as impressed with his soon to become vocal partner, saying that her voice was full of as many surprises as most horn players.


Together it becomes apparent that these two are as in tuned with each other as they are with the music. The harmony between Eade’s voice and Blake deft piano work is awe-inspiring, but it is the way they nail the melody, never gliding through a note and never leaving out a nuance to bring a song alive. Eade is not an actress, delivering a tune as if it was drama, but  her voice strives to be an instrument in that each word is a musical note or phrase, and she brings that to the song in such a satisfying way.

This album will be just as satisfying to the casual listener, who may at first expect that drama; that display of visual virtuosity usually associated with vocalists in this day of MTV and mass market appeal, but once you get over that, you will be hooked.

The student and serious aficionado of jazz also will not want to miss it. You can get Whirlpool at CD Baby starting today.


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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