As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others. But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010). Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.
The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.
On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).
The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich. Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor. The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.
Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves. “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band? OK, I’ll put on that hat. Back a torch singer? Can do. It’s atonal time? Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.” Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.
DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us. Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play. The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits. There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.
I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here. Buy this. Put everything else down and listen.” But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified. Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop. A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.
May your happiness increase.