Ghost Tones

If you're looking for something arcane, this CD is made to order. Pianist Ran Blake, who just turned 80, has designed this “audiobiographical homage” to musical theorist and composer George Russell. Russell's mostly noted for having devised the theories of modal improvisation that inspired Miles Davis to come up with his groundbreaking Kind of Blue album. Blake is a rather whimsical player and among this CD's highlights are his solo treatments of “Autumn in New York,” Russell's “Ezz-Thetic” and Blake's “Jacques Crawls.” Things start jumping when Blake—an educator at the New England Conservatory (where Russell was one of his colleagues)—is joined by some alumni on violin, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, bass and drums on a selection of Russell's compositions, such as “Jack's Blues” and “Lonely Place,” that feature them playing parts instead of riffing off of each other as “mainstream” musicians do. This is why the NEC is, thanks to the late Gunther Schuller who founded it, the home of what's known as “third stream jazz,” a synthesis of jazz and classical forms. Among the more bizarre tunes are a deranged version of “You Are My Sunshine,” complete with violin and pedal steel guitar, and Blake's “Biography,” which includes Luke Moldof on “electronics.”