Both Sara Serpa and Ran Blake have made names for themselves courageously attempting to explore the nature of pure sound – Ms. Serpa, by creating her own vortex for her voice into which she dives heart first and Mr. Blake by doing likewise but with the piano. To undertake this odyssey by using just improvisation is one thing, but throwing the song form into the mix is quite another. But for this duo pushing the boundaries of the song-form, as if to prove its elasticity, creates a bewildering array of possibilities all of which have been explored on this album, Kitano Noir. This is not a first for either artist – not by any stretch of imagination: Ran Blake has made several remarkable records with Christine Correa and Dominique Eade and this one with Sara Serpa has several ones of her own.
However, although well represented on other discs, the present recording is a welcome addition to the repertoire of both Ms. Serpa and Mr. Blake. True improvisations by them with the voice or on an instrument are by definition always ‘new’, the excitement is ‘in the chase’. And here is a classic example, a mix of solo and duo stretching that is emotionally intense, melodically and rhythmically rich – a heady mix fit for the gods. It features Sara Serpa’s heady soprano incomparably scored with characteristically piquant touches in the right hand of Ran Blake together with glowing support from the heavier rumbling of his left hand. The programme itself is also an intertwining of solo material – for both musicians – and duo performances, giving them enough opportunities to rest and recharge their collective batteries.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this album is that songs vary in style even though the artists and their instruments are the same. This must have taken some doing as it is often hard to vary style and content dramatically without disturbing the intimacy of the duet. But the ingenuity of these two musicians knows no bounds really and often the quest for the purity of sound reaches such lengths that you feel privy to some kind of spiritual experience. There is nothing sacred about the music though and the secular songs range from classic American songs to music by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, but mostly beautifully stark originals by Ran Blake. The latter are most impressive and the centrepiece of this repertory is “Indian Winter” which emulates no one and which, like “Field Cry” just might be the ones to break into the circle that surrounds the absolute “purity” of sound.
The directness and utter elegance of the music especially in those songs say much about Sara Serpa and if you have not heard Ran Blake’s music before these introductions to this fine composer will be hard to beat – they are definitely the discoveries of the year for me as well. Homophonic textures inform both vocal and instrumental music here. Far more often, though, enjoyment is unalloyed whether in the ideal pacing and colouring including some exquisite floated pianissimos of Ran Blake compositions throughout the album especially in the aqueous delicacy of “Short Life of Barbara Monk” or the wondering tenderness of both performers in “Good Morning Heartache” with its magical, harmonically audacious evocation of the palpitating heart. For something like this to succeed the sound engineering has to be top drawer. And that it certainly is.
Track List: Field Cry; When Sunny Gets Blue; Curtis; Fine and Dandy; Cry Wolf; Mãe Preta; Indian Winter; Mood Indigo; Moonride; Round Midnight; Addio Lugano; Get Out Of Town; Driftwood; Short Life Of Barbara Monk; Good Morning Heartache; Sing A Rainbow.
Personnel: Sara Serpa: voice; Ran Blake: piano.
About Sara Serpa
I am fascinated by the sound of the human voice. My task as a teacher is to hear the student attentively, helping him/her to discover his/her own sound and connect deeper with the process of music making through an arsenal of exercises that explore body movement, letting go of unnecessary tensions. Read more…
About Ran Blake
In a career that now spans five decades, pianist Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions, and themes from classic Film Noir, Blake’s singular sound has earned a dedicated following all over the world. Read more…
Main Photograph © Stéphane Deschamps