Sara Serpa / Ran Blake: Aurora (2013)
Aurora is vocalist Sara Serpa's second release with her mentor, pianist Ran Blake. A duet recital recorded live at Lisbon's Auditório da Culturges, despite being more laidback and slightly less adventurous, it is just as creative as the pair's engrossing Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010).
Serpa and Blake's sparse and atmospheric delivery of these dozen songs is inventive, intellectually stimulating and satisfying. The cinematic "Dr. Mabuse" features Serpa's wordless vocals, moving from wistfully contemplative to fiercely passionate, while her chilling and restrained a cappella rendition of singer Billie Holiday's iconic "Strange Fruit" subtly exposes the bitter chagrin within. Serpa also expresses a sophisticated whimsy on the innovative "Moonride," with Blake's humorous lines perfectly echoing the singer's lilting recitation of its quaint lyrics.
Well known for his empathetic work with audacious singers such as Jeanne Lee, Dominique Eade and Christine Correa, Blake exhibits supreme camaraderie with Serpa, anticipating and enhancing her nuanced vocal expressions. His playing shimmers like waves in the moonlight on the pastoral "When Autumn Sings," as Serpa's articulation of the undulating melody colors the tune with muted hues. The duo's sharp and witty exchange on an angular version of "Fine and Dandy" makes it swing with its own internal logic. Together with Serpa's operatic reading, Blake's surreal tones transform "The Band Played On" into a droll, eccentric and dramatic interpretation of this classic standard.
A sophisticated and impressionistic musician, Blake is an undisputed master of contrast. His dark and intriguing "Mahler Noir" opens with an expectant and resonant solo, evolving into a mellifluous soundtrack with snippets of ballads before closing with a percussive arpeggio.
This intimate date, impeccably recorded by Clean Feed, brings together two intrepid and idiosyncratic artists for an engaging and delightful album of shard musical vision.
Track Listing: Saturday; When Autumn Sings; Dr. Mabuse; Cansaço; Moonride; Strange Fruit; Mahler Noir; The Band Played On; Love Lament; Wende; Fine and Dandy; Last Night When We Were Young.
Personnel: Sara Serpa: vocals; Ran Blake: piano.