Sing, Sing, Sing. Dave McKenna and Buddy DeFranco have been active musicians over approximately that same period. Both are recognized as expert in their respective musical areas. Dave McKenna is an acknowledged master of the swing piano school, specializing in songs of the 1930s. Buddy DeFranco is reputed to be the evolutionary link between Benny Goodman and Eddie Daniels. These two performers make for a splendid and interesting duo. The clarinet, because of Benny Goodman, will forever be heard in terms of the swing era. Buddy DeFranco, however, cultivated it for Be-bop. Both the splendid and interesting elements in this duo are manifest in the combination of a swing instrument (clarinet) played by a Be-bopper and a Be-bop instrument (piano) played by a swing specialist.
A Fine Sauce of Flatted Fifths. The synergistic performances on this record are of a very high order. It is fun to listen to McKenna?s full-chorded, two-handed swing approach sliding beneath the slippery, boppish DeFranco, and make no mistake about it, DeFranco is 100% Be-bop. It is not unlike a fine sauce. A sauce is actually nothing more than a well-blended emulsion, a mixture of oil and water. Well-blended, because McKenna and DeFranco respond well to one another, but still oil and water. Still different. And the listener never loses sight of that difference.
Swing, Swing, Swing. The disc opens with a DeFranco original, "You Must Believe in Swing", a take off on the Bergman-Legrand composition, "You Must Believe in Spring", performed later on the disc. It is a medium tempo blues that is all Be-bop. The duo competently navigates through the ballads "Invitation" and "The Song is You" to arrive at the next Be-bop cornerstones, Tadd Dameron?s "If You Could See Me Now" and "Darn That Dream". Both are fun romps in the repertoire, but the real fun is in the Bop anthem "Anthropology". DeFranco begins the head straight, but soon careens off in the same way Charlie Parker did on his famous and unrecognizable recording of "Embraceable You". I cannot help but compare this clarinet version of "Anthropology" with another, Art Pepper?s performance on The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (Contemporary 9CCD-4417-2, 1995). The first portion of this performance is also a tight and exciting duet (with bassist George Mraz). Pepper?s version possesses a greater discipline and sheer musical tension than DeFranco?s, but DeFranco?s has merit in his risk-taking abandon. Where Pepper?s performance is dead serious, DeFranco?s is playful and has fun.
Having Fun. That pretty well sums up this record. Both performers sound comfortable and friendly. It is hard to believe that anyone would not like the sound of a clarinet in a piano duet. Played happy or sad, they always have a sound of hope and good will. Kind of like what these two Jazz giants have.
Personnel: Dave McKenna: piano; Buddy DeFranco: clarinet.