John Blum, Piano Great

You need to hear this pianist, a self-professed misanthropist (hey, brother!) who finds a reason to live in playing the instrument without fears of being misunderstood – he probably couldn’t care less – and if the audience is slim, that’s also fine. Despite having studied with Bill Dixon and Milford Graves and performed – among others – with the Cecil Taylor Orchestra and Butch Morris, 42-year old John Blum is relatively unknown except for a clutch of authentic connoisseurs, which sadly did not include yours truly until yesterday (your non-critic may know a little more about the musician now, but a “jazz expert” this ain’t). On this side of the speakers, the immediate response to the method – pernickety furiousness flowing so magnificently that the resultant masses of superimposed harmonies nearly depict a ground for contemplation – was a mixture of rigorous silence and wholehearted amazement.

The trio with Sunny Murray and William Parker – In The Shade Of Sun, released in 2008 by Ecstatic Peace! – is packed with marvellous music, oriented towards a “free classicism” that nevertheless doesn’t appear dated or scarcely “progressive” to these ears. On a continuous diet of pulsating eminence by the drummer and the bassist, whose action is forceful but not predominant, Blum shows a multitude of ways to approach the improvisational matter, banging and caressing with equal determination, showing a will to put a whole essence in discussion, no subterfuges or easy escapes accepted. The deriving energy moves in the right way across the nervous system, making us compare the relative tranquillity of certain passages to the proverbial quietness preceding a storm; the difference is that we yearn for staying out and get overwhelmed by the wind and the rain, perceiving lightning and thunder as obvious necessities.

However, in order to try and understand Blum’s pianism in depth look no further than a solo CD from 2009, Who Begat Eye on Konnex. Official comparisons amidst JB’s stylistic influences comprise the above mentioned Taylor, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, James P. Johnson’s “rolling barrel-house sound” (as per Steve Dalachinsky’s definition). All of these are basically correct. Yet my mind engendered a creature akin to a hyper-tense, faster Irene Schweizer: the lucidity of the phrasing, the almost mathematical precision characterizing a mix of intelligent verbosity and absolute indomitability in an incessant flux of ever-interesting ideas. Blum really sounds like a humanized pianola: imagine Sergei Kuryokhin on cocaine, trying to replicate the ongoing activities in a bird cage chock full of exemplars too different for a tranquil coexistence. Most of this stuff is gorgeous, totally gratifying for those who can set aside a precious moment to listen to head-to-feet inventive earnestness. This artist is not feeling guilty of letting people realize that his brain works at double speed, and the impressive quality of everything I’ve been listening for two days asserts that virtuosity is an indispensable foundation for attempting to achieve a total liberty.

“In the end, I play piano because I love music, and this is what I want to do with my time”. We’re honoured that the man is willing to share some of that: let him become renowned, for that soul is not going to be sold.

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