VOCALIST SARA SERPA AND PIANIST RAN BLAKE TAKE RISKS WITH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK
At a time when so many singers and accompanists play it safe, it’s refreshing to hear vocalist Sara Serpa and pianist Ran Blake do something different—maybe even risky—with the standard jazz song repertoire. Their second album together, Aurora (Clean Feed), give listeners a deeper and more intimate view of one of the most remarkable partnerships in jazz. Recorded live in concert at Lisbon’s Auditório da Culturgest and at private session at the theater the day before, the music covers a wide range. Some of it humorous, at other times it is imbued with a sense of tragedy or tender romance, but at all times it is daring. It’s little wonder that All About Jazz critic Ken Dryden said of their debut release Camera Obscura (Inner Circle) “the magical blend of Blake's piano with Serpa’s voice proves captivating.”
The musical relationship between Blake and Serpa, which began as mentor and student when Serpa attended Boston’s New England Conservatory, has deepened. “I feel I am a bit more mature,” Serpa says. “The first album was much more experimental for me, since I didn't know what would it sound like. This second album is almost like a rebirth of the duo, now much more assured of its identity. I feel Ran and I are more comfortable playing with each other and have developed a very good relationship in and outside the music world.
Working together they selected a unique set of songs to perform. Few pianists have as broad and deep a knowledge of jazz song repertoire as Ran Blake. So it’s no surprise that there are some rarely played gems heard on Aurora. Serpa has a keen understanding of melody and lyrics and made very personal selections as well. “To learn this new repertoire was a good experience,” Serpa says. “This repertoire is almost like time travel for me. Ran picked songs from old movies, songs he used to play when he was young, or songs sung by singers we both love. It was great for me to learn these songs and where they came from, and to try to make them mine. There are some subjects that are timeless and will always be universal. I picked songs that I felt were important for their words.”
The combination of veteran Blake and newcomer Serpa is a May-September pairing that creates music that’s both fresh and exciting, and timelessly relevant to the human condition.