In 2005, longtime collaborators Eddie Daniels
and Roger Kellaway
reunited at Los Angeles' Jazz Bakery to try their skills without the comfort of bass or drums. Luckily, they were up to the challenge more than ever. The result, A Duet of One
, presents two musicians who blend melody and spontaneity so well that they could improvise a symphony together.
From the first moments of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," Daniels and Kellaway establish a foundation that only grows tighter, as the clarinet asks and the piano answers through the head. Both play with a delicate touch. Paquito D'Rivera writes, in his excellent liner notes, that the two had never played the tune before, making the result still more impressive. Piano and clarinet swap unaccompanied solo statements with the ease of dialogue, slowing tempos and changing dynamics, before returning to the classic melody.
Kellaway is a real treat to hear, an underrated player with a sound that mixes touches of Art Tatum and Tin Pan Alley with distinctly modern swing. He consistently finds the right spot for every key, up and down the board. Meanwhile, Daniels' flawless technique belies the subtlety of his tone. His sound is always clean, whether at deep lows or glass cracking highs. At any given moment, he can quote delicate classical repertoire, or reach down for some soul, as he does on "Adagio Swing" with bluesy catcalls and fingers flying.
But for all the individual abilities on display, the songs live on the give-and-take between players. An 11-minute "Why Was I Born?" transforms the original tune into lyrical repartee. The conversation is carried by a chromatic triplet motif that passes from clarinet to piano, and vice versa, like a warming bottle. They pull it through the octaves, mix in clever twists, and make redefining a standard seem easy.
"New Orleans" finds Daniels' clarinet laying sweet improv with soft dynamics, suggesting a big city mournfulness brought down South. The stalking steps of "This is the Time," repeated in round, leap into a tremendous Kellaway solo, full of subtle, angular choices. Both players swap flourishes and trills before launching into a rollicking "After You've Gone" that features wild clarinet blowing.
The sound is decent for a live album. Some of Kellaway's wonderfully subtle touches are nearly lost, particularly on a subpar sound system. Daniels sounds perfect though, down to the whispery clicks of his keys, and the crowd is warm without being overbearing.
The mellow "Blue Waltz" is a masterpiece of breathy intonations and romantic piano flourishes. The set closes with "We'll Always Be Together," an upbeat, Latin-tinged number. Daniels puts on a show of elegant technique as Kellaway eases him along to a rousing end. But before the melody is fully restated, Daniels breaks away to once again recreate the tune, as if a few extra lines need adding before he hops offstage. It's a fitting end to a deeply enjoyable album.
Visit Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway on the web.
Personnel: Eddie Daniels: clarinet; Roger Kellaway: piano.