This Ran Blake fellow is quite the piano player, but he hasn’t exactly put out a ton of records over the past couple of decades and doesn’t tour much If at all), so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard (of) him. Which is a gosh-darn shame, as few pianists balance form and freedom, abstraction and affection, emotional and cerebral, like Ran Blake. (His few peers include Paul Bley, Marilyn Crispell and the late Lennie Tristano.) Some might apply the Third Stream [modern classical + jazz) tag to him, others consider him an early free player, he’s both, he’s neither. He’s a "minimalist," not like Phillip Glass, but like Thelonious Monk, though he doesn’t much sound like him. He can/does play "free" though with his carefully measured style, you’d never mistake him for Cecil Taylor or Keith Tippett. Blake (like Monk and Bley) never uses a bunch of notes when one or two well-placed ones can make your day (if not your week).
Blake almost always records in solo or duo contexts, so indeed this album, a trio with bass and drums, is a Special Occasion, and it’s a 2-CD set to boot). Sonic Temples presents Blake accompanied with amazing grace and finesse by the brothers Schuller - Ed on bass and George on drums, with the velvety Lester Young-via-Lee Konitz alto sax of Nicole Kampgen Schuller on three tracks. But take heed: "accompanied" does not mean "support" or "they stay in the background" - Ed and George (and Nicole) are equal, extremely empathetic and subtle participants, a la the trios of Bill Evans and Marilyn Crispell. And Blake is sublime throughout on a program that mostly standards (that in lesser hands could/would be trite) and a few originals. Though the liner notes point out (at length) than RB’s right hand isn’t as fast as many jazz pianists, I say "soooo what," as many pianists (and instrumentalists) often succumb to substituting speed and technique for content. He has a "touch" to the keys that recalls Duke Ellington: elegant, sly but not smug, colored by a touch of the blues but never obvious about it. Most of the time I play a song or three from a disc, then on to another - this has been one of the few albums in the past year or so that I can listen to all the way through at a given sitting. Sonic Temples is one of the VERY BEST piano trio albums I’ve heard, and lovers of acoustic piano are urged to pack their lunches for a few days, set aside some $ and purchase it posthaste.