Ryan Blotnick has been called “a vital contemporary voice” by Time Out New York, “an authentic, compelling player” by Cadence Magazine, and has garnered praise from fellow guitarists John Abercrombie, Steve Cardenas and Ben Monder. As part of one of the last generations to study with 1960s era masters like Gene Bertoncini, Harold Mabern, Yusef Lateef, Billy Taylor and Andrew Cyrille, Blotnick developed a deep respect for the post-bop and free-jazz traditions, while simultaneously being exposed to current directions in European and American improvisation. His interest in creative composition has led him to work with artists such as Michael Blake, Pete Robbins, Bill McHenry, Mat Maneri, and Tyshawn Sorey, who have each carved out their own niche at the forefront of modern jazz. His own compositions draw on an eclectic mix of genres and display a rich understanding of harmony and lyricism. His latest release Kush (2016) mines a bittersweet melodic/harmonic vein balanced by an African-influenced rhythmic elan. Conceived as an antidote to the more aggressive forms of New York jazz, Kush offers freshly-minted waltzes, haunting ballads and more than a touch of Frisellian Americana, as well as a variety of grooves combining jazz and African feels.
Ryan Blotnick (born April 30, 1983) is professional musician living in Southwest Harbor, Maine. He grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine and became interested in jazz after being exposed to musicians like Gregory Tardy and George Garzone at Maine Jazz Camp. In high school he was in the All-State Jazz Combo and won the Corning Jazz Prize with his trio. At William Paterson University he studied with Gene Bertoncini and Paul Meyers, and played with classmates such as Mark Guiliana and Sam Barsh.
Ryan Blotnick first appeared in New York in 2004 as a ‘reverse exchange student’ from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, becoming one of the first Americans to complete the Musician/Soloist Graduate Program, together with Ned Ferm. His association with the Danish Conservatory between 2002 and 2006 allowed him to form relationships with some very unique European musicians, and study with Steve Cardenas, Lionel Loueke, Ben Street and Lee Konitz in New York and with Jakob Bro and Bjarne Roupé in Denmark. His collaborative group Ugly Customer won the Danish Young Jazz Competition and performed at the Stockholm Jazz Festival and Copenhagen Jazzhouse. As part of the large ensemble Forkert, he played at the Nordischer Klang Festival in Greifswald, Germany and around Denmark. His projects for school involved large ensemble compositions and recordings with some of the big names in Danish jazz today, such as Kresten Osgood, Kasper Tranberg and Jonas Westergaard.
After graduating, Blotnick moved to New York, leading at times a quartet with Jonathan Rossman, a quintet with Albert Sanz and Bill McHenry, and a trio with RJ Miller and Chris Higgins. As a sideman he worked with Michael Blake's Free Association, Tyshawn Sorey's Oblique, Mads Mouritz and the Bleeding Hearts, The Allison/Blake Morphestra, James Ilgenfritz' Anagram Ensemble, and Akoya Afrobeat. With Pete Robbins & Centric he toured Europe and the East Coast twice, and played regular New York shows with a who's who of modern jazz (Sam Sadigursky, Thomas Morgan, Tyshawn Sorey, Eliot Cardinaux, Mike Gamble, Eivind Opsvik, Jeff Davis, Dan Weiss, Mike Pride), participated in a Chamber Music of America commission to adapt the music of Carlo Gesualdo for jazz ensemble, and played on Robbins’ Do The Hate Laugh Shimmy. He played in various configurations with Mike McGinniss, Steven Bernstein, Ben Street, Kenny Wollesen, Marcus Rojas, Michael Attias, Gerald Cleaver, Avishai Cohen, Jeff Williams, and Lee Konitz.
In early 2015 Ryan moved back to Maine as a chance to reconnect with his roots, but also to give himself enough free time and space to really practice and develop his sound. He spent the first winter working out a trio sound with RJ Miller and bassist Tyler Heydolph at their weekly gig at Local 188, and then recorded Kush with Michael Blake, RJ Miller and Scott Colberg. In the summer of 2015 he traveled to Europe to tour Spain and Portugal with Enrique Oliver, and played shows with Daniele Richiedei and Emanuele Maniscalco in Italy. He is looking forward to touring Kush in the US, Europe and possibly Latin America, and working on another solo album this winter. Side projects include fixing up an old house near Acadia National Park, running an AirBnB, tending bar at Red Sky Restaurant, building frames for his fiancé Keri, and hiking with his dog Nori.
At age 24, Ryan released his debut album Music Needs You (2008) on Songlines, with Pete Robbins on alto sax, Spanish pianist Albert Sanz and Barcelona-based drummer Joe Smith. It was widely praised as "graceful, evocative" (Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times), "engagingly pensive" (Nate Chinen, New York Times) and “a record full of memorable melodies; gentle, reflective tunes [that] might actually have a shot at becoming 21st-century standards” (Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York).
His second release for Songlines, Everything Forgets (2009), features drum master Jeff Williams (Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, etc.), reed player Joachim Badenhorst (Han Bennink Trio), and Irish bassist Simon Jermyn, as well as some trio tunes with Joe Smith and Perry Wortman. Marke Andrews of the Vancouver Sun wrote, “Some tracks on Everything Forgets are tone poems, including the gentle ‘Intro’ and the electronic ‘Funes the Memorius’, and others, like ‘Judge’s Cave’, are meter-free explorations with lots of open spaces in the dialogue among instruments. Then there are the simple, melodic numbers such as ‘Mansell’, with its firm backbeat and unadorned guitar work, and ‘Ballad for a Crumbling Infrastructure’, which swings thanks to brushwork by drummer Jeff Williams.”
His third CD, Solo Volume I (2012), features stark compositions for acoustic guitar, and “gives the sense of an intensely thoughtful design” (Nate Chinen, New York Times). Lucid Culture wrote that it has “some of the opacity of indie rock, but not the peevishness, along with occasional detours toward the baroque.” David Adler wrote, “Evocative and restrained, the album widens our conception of what a solo piece can be.”
In 2012 Ryan moved to Northampton, MA, playing with pianist Eliot Cardinaux and making trips to the city to perform with his project Saut-e Sarmad, which Time Out called “a killer assortment of avant-jazz experts”: saxist Michael Blake, keyboardist Eliot Cardinaux, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Randy Peterson. As a member of the Leif Arntzen Band he played on Continuous Break (2012) with Michael Bates, Jeff Davis and Landon Knoblock. He also played shows with the Michael Blake Band, and worked with Canadian producer Chris Brown, playing lead guitar and bass on The Ghost of Arthur James’ Small Target (2014). On NYC-based Akoya Afrobeat's Under the Tree (2016) Blotnick is featured alongside Nigerian pop star Kaleta, Takuya Kuroda, and members of Antibalas and the FELA! pit band.
Exploring the world of midi and a broader compositional palette, Ryan has completed two feature film scores and other notable scoring projects. His brother Robin's 2012 documentary Gods and Kings illuminates the way creations of mass culture take on new meanings as they travel around the world. It won the Intangible Culture Film Prize at the RAI Festival of Ethnographic Film and was featured as the opening night film at ETHNOCINECA (Austria, 2014). The crowd-pleasing score to The Hand That Feeds (2014, directed by Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears) helped it win the Audience Awards at both Full Frame and DOC-NYC, and the Village Voice noted that it was “filmed with the urgency and suspense of a Hitchcock thriller.” His most recent score is a through-composed piece to accompany City of Movement, a 10-minute looping video installation at the Museum of the City of New York that “explores the relationships that emerge among different historical moments through juxtapositions in the social practice, visuality, and sonic environment of New York City activism.”