[In which your humble narrator briefly ponders if enough time has passed since the Austin Powers franchise was thoroughly, mercilessly run into the ground that it's okay to quote from it again... ]
Mike Baggetta on Ran Blake:
What I can tell you about him is that he plays the piano like no one else alive that I know of. Another thing I can tell you is that he seems extremely focused and in the moment while maintaining a strong sense of humility and servitude to the music. I kept having a thought while I was listening at the concert that was something like "this is the closest thing I will ever witness to Thelonious Monk playing solo piano..." I think that my idea has a lot to do with his unapologetic touch for the notes he plays, as well as a strong confidence in his own phrasing of the melodies. Ideally we all have this, but something he had seemed so akin to the solo Thelonious albums I have listened to hundreds of times. (If you don't have the London and San Francisco solo stuff, you're missing out big time!) Mr. Blake definitely has a strong mastery over using the pedals of the piano too. This is especially evident in his, what I can only describe as, sforzando chords, as well as in a whole array of other sounds I have never heard come out of any other piano in my life with such intensity. His mastery was applied to two sets of music of his own written and improvised material and songs written by Dominique Eade, Cole Porter, Mary Lou Williams and Gunther Schuller, among others. All of this accompanied by some very insightful program notes by Mr. Blake, and I think that gives you one of the best concerts of the year!
It really was a tremendous performance -- Ran is looking and sounding very good these days. This kind of off-the-beaten path, low-key gig in Brooklyn (where he gets to pick the room lighting and there happens to be an exit extremely close to the piano bench -- these things are important to Ran) is just the kind of environment that brings out the best in his playing. The comparison to Monk might sound like hyperbole if you've never heard Ran play, but it's actually extraordinarily apt, especially since Monk and Ran had a complex but close personal relationship. At one point, Ran actually took a piano lesson from Monk -- can you imagine asking for a lesson with Monk? Can you imagine Monk giving one? The mind boggles. Ran also used to babysit for Monk's daughter Barbara (the "Boo Boo" of "Boo Boo's Birthday") and one of Ran's most-recorded and performed pieces is his dedication to her, "The Short Life of Barbara Monk."
[In the same post, Mike also blogs about his experience performing with some wanker in a morning coat last Saturday.]
Secret Society co-conspirator Josh Sinton probably knows as much about Ran's music as anyone out there. He also delivers the best Ran Blake impression, hands-down. He's offered to contribute a guest post on Ran's music at some point, which I very much look forward to sharing with you.