Ran Blake and Dominique Eade Make a Mesmerizingly Dark Album
Ran Blake and Dominique Eade’s new album Whirlpool couldn’t have come out at a more appropriate time. It’s the perfect autumn record: its dark clarity is absolutely chilling, and absolutely exhilarating. It makes you glad to be alive. Eade has never sung better; at 76, Blake’s at the top of his game, absolutely undiminished, the indomitable master of noir piano menace and magic. Despite the fact that he’s an incorrigible improviser who never does anything remotely the same way twice, singers love working with him: he takes everyone to the next level. As always with Blake, this is a counterintuitive album. Not only because takes the lead where a singer often would; or because he shifts so confidently between ideas and idoms; or because the two completely reinvent everything they touch, with a rubato-fueled tension and sense of anticipation, but because Eade is right there with him, spot-on, every single time. With every lyric, she’s a different person. That all this would work so well is testament to the enduring friendship between the two – despite a longstanding collaboration, this is their first album together.
In terms of pure chops, she’s probably the best singer he’s ever worked with, which is not meant as disrespect to either the immortal Jeanne Lee – whose presence on her iconic 1961 album with Blake, The Newest Sound Around, is completely shattering – or more recently, Sara Serpa, with whom he recorded 2010’s extraordinary Camera Obscura. But Eade doesn’t let her range, and ability to shade a phrase or a lyric with the most minute shades of volume, or pull off or turn up an effortless powerglide vibrato, obscure her commitment to pulling (and occasionally wrenching) the meaning out of the words.
My Foolish Heart sets the stage with icy/lurid ambience from Blake and a stunningly nuanced approach by Eade – it’s a wounded, gentle knockout. Gospel and noir form an uneasy partnership in the first version of Jerome Kern’s Deadly Beloved here – the second offers a look at how radically Blake will reinent a tune, this time awash in big, crashing chords, a bit of boogie-woogie and Eade amping up the power alongside him. Picking right up where Blake and Serpa left off, Eade begins Russell Freeman and Jerry Gladstone’s The Wind low and chilly over Blake’s icicle minimalism: the crystalline clarity and matter-of-factness of her delivery is devastating. A smartly chosen Eade original, Go Gently to the Water hints mysteriously at gospel-flavored pop but elects for hypnotic ambience instead, Blake providing a warmly gleaming, surface-of-the-water backdrop.
Eade gives Old Devil Moon a genuinely scary edge to complement Blake’s subtle slasher piano. They scamper through it almost breathlessly: the intensity is such that they’re always trying to catch up, Blake’s purist bluesiness falling off the edge back into the creepy shadows. Pinky, by Alfred Newman, is done as a tone poem of sorts, just vocalese and a radically rearranged tune edging toward the macabre. Zan Overall’s Falling has Eade leading this time and Blake has to scurry, holding fast to a central note as he methodically fills in the scary areas encircling all around. By contrast, on Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh’s Where Are You, they give each other all kinds of space. “Where are you?” is definitely the question here!
Harold Arlen’s Out of This World alludes to but never embraces a casual saloon sway, and Quincy Jones’ The Pawnbroker is all lucid anxiety. At the end of the album, the two let down their hair a little and have some fun: Eade pulls Blake along on The Thrill Is Gone (the Ray Henderson standard, not the B.B. King blues) and Blake lingers – is it really over, he wants to know. And After the Ball evokes Daria Grace’s wonderfully misty version, Blake taking the jaunty waltz tune and then adding just enough warp to give you goosebumps. Is this the best jazz album of the year? It’s one of them, no question. Check back here in the next few weeks when we put up our year-end list and see how close to the top it is.
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