David “Knife” Fabris
Indian Winter Review for One Final Note by David Dupont
Like Alfred Hitchcock, the filmmaker he most admires, Ran Blake uses odd angles to shape the audience’s view of his material. In Hitchcock the oddly framed scene can disorient viewers, causing discomfort though the subject is mundane. Blake does the same with the strains of the torch songs he favors. He darkens the harmonies, pushing them away from the tonality ever so slightly. He knows how to strip a melody to its emotional core. He swings, but with a certain diffidence. And though Blake would never be described as a virtuoso pianist, he employs a full palette of pianistic color. All this is on display on Indian Winter. Blake, along with guitarist David Fabris, recorded this during a European tour. Though they get equal billing, this is very much a Blake recording. Fabris appears on ten of the 23 tracks, the others spotlighting Blake’s distinctive solo piano.
Blake’s “Homage to Alfred Hitchcock” serves as a primer for his approach. He opens with a scale pattern that seems obsessive in its simplicity, then tugs it lower with dense chording. That motif returns throughout as Blake creates what amounts to a miniature soundtrack for a hypothetical Hitchcock thriller. The piece includes an ominous march, a lullaby-like figure, and a chase scene, all within just a bit over five minutes, the longest piece of the set. Blake works in compressed forms that add to the feeling of frayed nerves, favoring emotional nuance over effusive expression. On Bacharach’s “Say a Little Prayer for You” he plays the melody simply over low chords, then pulls the rest into darker territory. He reiterates that simple statement of those two melody phrases, but casts the rest of the melody differently each time.
Fabris proves to be an interesting partner for Blake on eight tracks. Like Blake, he can wrest a variety of sounds from his instrument. On “Streetcar Named Desire” he opens with his fuzz tone in overdrive, but then quiets down almost as if he switched to acoustic guitar. He even goes Hawaiian on “Mood Indigo”. Sometimes on the tracks with Fabris, the ideas seem truncated. It would have been nice to hear how “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” would develop beyond the 1:40 devoted to it. Still no one packs as much into so little time as Blake, and that’s evident on this set of miniatures.