How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Dragon Fish is a dazzling collaboration between saxophonist Pat Mallinger and pianist Dan Trudell. Though Mallinger's name is featured on the cover, there really is no clear leader on the record as both musicians play off of each other as they engage in an emotional and intellectually stimulating musical conversation. Exploring myriad combinations of timbre, tone and texture, Mallinger and Trudell bring forth just about every possible nuance that could be found in a woodwind-piano duo situation. Even without the driving force of double-bass and drums, these two seasoned veterans perform with the intensity and intrigue that can only come by spending years together on the bandstand.
All of the tracks are written by Mallinger with the exception of "Diffuse" and "Adventures," which are collaborative efforts between the pianist and saxophonist. Though firmly rooted in post-bop style of jazz, exemplified in tunes such as "CPW" an acronym for the John Coltrane
tune "Central Park West" on which it is based, the duo weaves their way in and out of the different shades of modern jazz. Tunes such as "Just Give it a Chance" and "Pigeon Pease" are a solid mix of innovation and tradition, helping to avoid the monotony that often occurs with album-length duo collaborations.
As soloists, both Mallinger and Trudell are incredibly adept on their instruments and effortlessly comfortable with the harmonic layout of every tune. Both of these enviable traits allow the duo to explore the tunes at a higher level, going behind the harmony into the realms of tonal color, timbre and rhythmic interaction. Without this heightened sense of musicality, and the duo's ability to interact, the album surely would not have been so successful.
Tunes such as "Hills Over Tuscany" fall more into the realm of sonic paintings then they do blowing sessions. Listening to the soft touch of Mallinger's flute and the anticipatory nature of Trudell's accompaniment conjures up the rolling hills of this picturesque region of central Italy. This adds to the depth and quality of the music in a way that may not have been possible had the record been done with a larger ensemble.
Dragon Fish is a welcomed addition to the jazz duo catalogue. Featuring strong conversational interaction, intellectually stimulating harmonic vocabulary and a solid sense of melody, these two Midwestern musicians not only pay homage to the great duo albums of the past, but make their own memorable contribution to the genre.
Track Listing: CPW; Just Give it a Chance; Hills Over Tuscany; Dragon Fish; Diffuse; Camp Dan; Dear James; Pigeon Peas; Adventures; Madeline's Lullaby.
Personnel: Pat Mallinger: saxophones, flute; Dan Trudell: piano.