Dynamite Duos and Perfect Partners

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Joe Beck & John Abercrombie
Coincidence
Whaling City Sound
2007

This duet album is a guitarist's dream. Both Beck and Abercrombie have unquestionable individual virtuosity plus experience in this format through previous tandem performances with Larry Coryell, John Scofield, Ralph Towner and similar luminaries. Together, they explore pillars from the traditional and more exploratory jazz canons including "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" (Mercer/Ellington), "All Blues" (Miles Davis) and "The Turnaround" (Ornette Coleman), plus new originals for the occasion, in witty and bright conversation.

The interwoven riffs and rhythms of the opening "Beautiful Love" serve as both description and introduction. Its sharp yet soft accompaniment shimmers and pulses beneath the fluid and elegantly melodic leads, and it quickly proves impossible to distinguish which guitarist is playing what. Taken at a comfortable pace, "I Should Care" sounds more than familiar to these two masters - it sounds like a recorded master class. The meditative "How Deep is the Ocean" rushes past a little more quickly, and bounces colorfully upon its rhythmic waves.

In Beck's "Mikey Likes It," background guitar hammers down a muted electric blues riff - think of ZZTop's rump-thumping classic "Tush" in the gentler hands of Pat Metheny - while lead guitar briskly inspects every corner of the tune. Davis' "All Blues" becomes its companion piece, with an opening that sings the melody in a genuine trumpet voice, before electric barbed hooks and ejaculations nimbly rumble through the accompaniment.

Coincidence is also the sound of Beck and Abercrombie enjoying the freedom that comes from playing with no rhythm section. Coleman's "The Turnaround" is more or less arranged as a straight lead/rhythm blues guitar duet, but allows the duo to spacewalk further out. Almost in an instance, their lovely melodic dance through "My Romance" turns into a spacey abstraction that nestles back into the melody to close.

More than any other tune, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" sounds like two extremely talented friends just letting it hang out; several almost psychedelic blues passages - some shaded in raw fuzztones - rock pretty hard considering there's no rhythm section. Which is the one thing about Coincidence: It will immediately and devastatingly knock out guitar players and other musicians, but, with no bassist or drummer, non-musicians might find it hard to lock down into the groove, and thus find more challenges in pursuit of its rewards.

Sadly, Coincidence proved to be Joe Beck's last release; he succumbed to lung cancer on July 22.

Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims
Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims (RVG Edition)
Blue Note
2008

Jutta Hipp proves one of the more curious tales in a music whose history is full of curiosities: She grew up studying jazz piano and painting in her native Germany, then moved to New York City in late 1955. She played piano in and around the city for about a year, including performances documented on two 1956 live albums released by Blue Note.

Jutta with Zoot was recorded later in '56 and produced by Blue Note founder Alfred Lion with a cast of veteran sidemen including saxophonist Sims, whom Hipp had met a few years earlier while Sims toured Europe as a member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. To fill out the classic bop quintet - two horns (trumpet and sax) with a piano / bass / drum rhythm section - Hipp brought in Ed Thigpen, the drummer from her trio, and Sims brought the trumpet player and bassist from his own Quintet.

Sims contributed the opening "Just Blues," although he apparently couldn't be bothered to title it. Trumpeter Jerry Lloyd sounds well-schooled in bop and post-bop trumpet, and Hipp briskly steps out in her solo spotlight, but Zoot sounds like the star, especially when his closing phrases coalesce on the beat, then rides like a seasoned jockey through the finishing kick. "Violets for Your Furs" sounds custom-written for Sims' satin-glove ballad style, with the pianist's delicate and thoughtful touch quite complementary to the saxophonist's sensual sound. So does "Almost Like Being in Love," with which Sims dances like a courtly gentleman.

Jutta with Zoot jumps and wails too. Bop solos by Sims, Lloyd and Hipp lead the ensemble in highstep through Lloyd's propulsive "Down Home," swinging jazz well-played and hot. Zoot even cops from "When the Saints Go Marching In" to introduce "Wee Dot," a New Orleans feeling tune that later spotlights Lloyd's trumpet work. Although it's often written how much she plays like Horace Silver, in both these tunes Hipp brings it hard and hot, like the subtle but funky thunder of Wynton Kelly.

And in "These Foolish Things," best suited for when your lights are low and your mood soft and cool, Hipp's thoughtful, beautiful and articulate playing proves worthy of commanding such a classic Gershwin tune.


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