Grey December: Live in Rome, 2011

Reviews for Ran Blake’s Grey December: Live in Rome
Released in 2011 on Tompkins Square Records

For the academic and cerebral Ran Blake, the very idea of a “live” album is something of a curiosity, so it should be noted at the outset that the only evidence of an audience on Grey December: Live in Rome is some sparse applause at the end of a few tracks. Those listeners are treated to a typical solo piano outing from the 75-year-old avant-garde player, whose work may be categorized as jazz only for want of a better term. As usual, Blake proceeds largely by subtraction, stripping down his performances to carefully considered fragments of melodies and chords, with odd juxtapositions added here and there. He references Third Stream jazz with a version of Gunther Schuller‘s “Magic Row” and suggests another influence in “Mingus.” Eden Ahbez‘s “Nature Boy” is a natural choice for a pianist attracted to spare, odd structures. For most of the album, the tracks are as short as they are underplayed, but Blake changes gears on the closer, an 11-minute “Inspirations: Abbey Lincoln,” which is as rich and full of ideas as the preceding music had been parsimonious. It indicates that, like most septuagenarians, Blake now guards his resources and chooses his spots. Like any old master, he is doing more with less.

-William Ruhlmann, AMG

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