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All jazz pianists are singular, but Ran Blake is more singular than most. His radically subjective approach to improvisation goes far beyond the ‘third stream’ label that’s usually slapped on his work. As critic Francis Davis has noted, the third stream in Blake’s case is less a confluence of jazz and classical currents, more a stream of consciousness which also embraces gospel, soul, dreams, memories and an ardent love of film noir, all distilled into a terse, elliptical, flinty yet heartfelt music.

Of course, this singular style has graced several fine solo albums. More surprising, perhaps, have been Blake’s many notable duo recordings, which include collaborations with singer Jeanne Lee and guitarist David ‘Knife’ Fabris. Kaleidoscope is his first recording with a drummer, although Jon Hazilla is no stranger: he was a student of Blake’s at the New England Conservatory and played on the pianist’s 1980 Film Noir LP. They’re a good pairing, both masters of allusion: Hazilla implies the beat with a canny deftness akin to Blake’s fastidious skirting of the melody. Theirs is a kaleidoscope of ghostly tints, a duo of feints and echoes.

The set comprises a handful of Blake originals scattered among works by a diverse choice of composers (from Shostakovich to Harold Arlen) who are sometimes stitched together in unlikely, intricate medleys. Blake’s music may be unique in jazz, but – pithy, cryptic, imbued with ‘noir’ – it recalls an earlier New England maverick, the poet Emily Dickinson, who knew that ‘An ear can break a human heart/As quickly as a spear’.

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing