Vilnius Noir, 2012

Reviews for

Ran Blake and Dave “Knife” Fabris’

Vilnius Noir
Released in 2012 on NoBusiness Records

Published: April 19, 2012


Although recorded in concert in a church in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius Noir has the feel of eavesdropping on a late night conversation between two old friends who don’t need to say very much for the other to grasp the intended meaning. Although guitarist David “Knife” Fabris hails from a different generation than pianist composer Ran Blake, they share a sophisticated approach to the material at hand in this set of duos and solos. They met at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where Blake led the Contemporary Improvisation Department (formerly Third Stream Department). Fabris, whose muse leads him to both experimental jazz and modern chamber music, has appeared on three previous albums with his mentor.
Standards and covers make up the majority of the program on this limited edition LP, some by the likes of Ellington, George Russell and Michel Legrand, but others more obscure. These are placed alongside three Blake originals and one traditional folk song. Half the cuts feature Blake unaccompanied, there are five duets, and a solo for Fabris completes the recital. Blake elegantly deploys an encyclopedic knowledge of both modern classical and blues and gospel tonalities distilled into a deeply personal style in which he manipulates tempo and dynamics to suit his purpose. Tunes are approached obliquely. Shifting from the utmost delicacy to ringing crescendos, Blake implies harmony and rhythm, rarely using more than the bare minimum to make his point.
With his lucent tone and varied attacks, Fabris matches the pianist blow for blow as the spotlight shifts back and forth between them. They essay a spare, gentle melodicism on the opening two cuts, becoming more animated on Russell’s “Jack’s Blues/Stratusphunk,” where they indulge in a fugue-like mirroring before a swinging section to take the medley out. “Mood Indigo” closes the set, with Fabris wielding his slide, exquisitely bending notes in consort with Blake’s sideways hints. Alone, Blake displays a feather-light touch on the Yiddish lullaby “Shlof Mayn Kind,” the notes like falling snow flakes. The rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” becomes almost garrulous in comparison with the rest of this intimate set, the theme easily recognizable, though typically embellished with digressions in the bass register or dissonant asides.

From Paris Transatlantic


Vilnius Noir presents solos and duos from veteran pianist and iconoclastic interpreter Ran Blake, joined here by guitarist David Fabris. Fabris has appeared on three of Blake’s prior recordings (one on Soul Note and two on Hat Hut, including the excellent Something to Live For), and has consistently provided an exciting foil for the pianist. Where Blake is stark, reticent and ambiguous, Fabris is bright and wryly surefooted; when the pianist is full and pushy, the guitarist is spiky and delicate. They’re a cantankerous, moody pair but it’s obvious that they’re having a grand time pushing one another about. The pianist’s composition “Cry Wolf” is a case in point, where Fabris inserts barroom blues-rock phrasing alongside Blake’s silvery, ringing distance. Their pairing on George Russell’s “Stratusphunk” is jovial and funky, though Blake’s strange microcosmic boogie-woogie remains untouched. Unaccompanied, Blake is enigmatic as always, moving from boisterous atonality to coy romanticism in a few notes. He’s a pretty strong foil for himself, which is what has always made his solo work intriguing, but he can also present absolute, rarefied beauty, as he does in a few simple and bright phrases on the traditional Jewish folk song “Shlof Mayn Kind”, or Michel Legrand’s haunting classic “Watch What Happens”. If you like your Third Stream peppered with a little folk-blues eclecticism, look no further than Vilnius Noir.

A review by Grego Applegate Edwards,


Published: August, 2012

Though he has recorded as a soloist, an accompanist for singers (who can forget the epochal Newest Sound Around with Jeanne Lee from 1962?) and with ensembles small and large, pianist Ran Blake really seems to shine in duos with other instrumentalists. This is one of the most challenging of formats in jazz, generally more difficult than either playing solo or with three or more musicians. And piano and guitar don’t coexist all that easily even in quintets, since the tendency to step on chordal toes is built-in and in a duo this danger is even greater. These things are mentioned because the listener would never guess at any of it from the duo tracks on Vilnius Noir.

Guitarist David Fabris has been aiding and abetting Blake since their excellent Ellington tribute in 1999. Many writers since then, present company included, have noted that he is a perfect foil for the individualistic pianist, usually unaware of the unintentional pun involved; Blake’s nickname for his guitarist is “Knife” (though the moniker wasn’t listed on earlier records). There have been several other collaborations, both on record and in concert, and Vilnius Noir was taped during one of the latter. As seems to be the norm on such occasions, Blake plays solo about half the time, with Fabris joining often enough to provide a change of pace. He also plays a couple of brief but delicious solo pieces, on which his spare guitaring might make some think of Bill Frisell or even perhaps David Lindsay, but still sounding unique. Fabris is not breathtakingly original but has found his own voice, which is more than enough. Maybe this is what makes him such a good partner for Blake, another musician who has never seemed to have any doubt of his own unique identity. This assuredness contributes to the high level of trust that’s palpable here; Blake can always find a new angle knowing that Fabris will find an angle to that angle.

The program spans everything from “Mood Indigo” to “Desafinado” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” to a sly reduction of George Russell’s “Stratusphunk”, as well as several strong originals. There’s a lot of playfulness on this record, but a lot of tension, angst and tenderness as well, sometimes all at once, somehow. It’s a vinyl-only release and the excellent sound quality warrants it. But since it’s a limited edition, interested readers should track it down quickly before it disappears.


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