You may not have heard of German bassist Dieter Ilg, but he's played with a number of known entities since his emergence in the early '90s, including trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, pianist Marc Copland, and trumpeter Randy Brecker. He also played on and produced Savannah Samurai, a '99 release by saxophonist Charlie Mariano, now in his 80s, who's considerably better known, having worked with Stan Kenton, Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, and Eberhard Weber, not to mention releasing 35 albums under his own name (including last year's elegant orchestral album Not Quite a Ballad).
Presumably Savannah Samurai was a good experience for Ilg and Mariano, as evidenced by Due, which finds the two back together for a set of spare duets. In this exposed setting, Ilg demonstrates a remarkable ability to maintain forward motion while creating the kind of harmonic movement that gives the session a surprisingly orchestral range.
In an interview last year, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko talked about how, as he gets older, he finds himself moving away from more extreme forms of freedom and more towards the tradition. On Due, Mariano demonstrates the same kind of effortless lyricism that lends the whole set a relaxed and approachable complexion. That's not to say he isn't capable of broader flourishes and bolder dynamics, but for the most part he stays true to the essence of the material, which includes five of his tunes, four by Ilg, a couple of standards, and pieces by a number of lesser-known writers.
Ilg and the better-known Marc Johnson share some distinct stylistic links. Versatile and capable of implying as much as he overtly states, Ilg also possesses the kind of technique that is so fully developed that it becomes more a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. One gets the impression that he's capable of much more than he reveals; the kind of restraint and attention to the purity of each note makes his contribution far more than mere accompaniment. His solos combine advanced harmonics and chordal movement with a genuine melodic bent that lends everything a singing quality.
The pieces range from a funky reprise of Ilg's "Savannah Samurai, from Mariano's album of the same name, to the elegiac elegance of "Tsuyu and the Eastern-tinged ambience of "Bangalore Song, two Mariano compositions. A tender look at Monk's "Ruby My Dear and the ambling swing of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye contrast with the darker beauty of Mariano's "Glass and Ilg's folkloric ballad "Namida, with a highlight of the second disc being Mariano's more open-ended return to the aria "Vesti La Giubba, from Not Quite a Ballad.
Music doesn't have to be confrontational or extravagant to be adventurous. Sometimes it's enough to respect simplicity and dig deep into the core of a song, and with Due, Ilg and Mariano impress as much with understatement as they do with range and depth.
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