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With the possible exception of solo performance, there is no more exposed format than the duet. But while solo playing allows for more complete freedom of interpretation, the duet demands, perhaps, a greater sense of responsibility, without the safety net afforded by larger groupings. In the duet format there is no room for error; risks are taken with the knowledge that there is little to hide behind, and the expectation that one's partner simply has to be there without fail at all times.
Still, the duet also provides a great opportunity for liberated interplay; with only one foil there is a chance for greater exploration, as long as the two players are intimately simpatico. Such is the case with pianist Edward Simon and woodwind multi-instrumentalist David Binney, who have been working together in a variety of contexts for over fifteen years. The result of their long-term association is the kind of attention to detail, and ability to intuit the subtlest turn of phrase, that makes their first album as a duo, Fiestas de Agosto, such a treat. It's more than just playing a phrase in unison, and it's more than catching onto an improvised motif; it's about being able to anticipate and lock into the smallest variation in parlance, as well as more overt rhythmic and melodic conceits.
Simon, a Venezuelan native who relocated to New York many years ago, is, like more recent newcomer Luis Perdomo, an artist who has been able to transcend his Latin and Afro-Cuban roots, while at the same time not ignoring them. His "Fiestas begins with an almost Gismonti-like abstraction, opening with Binney's dissonant flutes, transforming into an abstruse theme over Simon's time-staggered chords before shifting into a more straightforward 3/4 time modal vamp.
While he hasn't yet achieved widespread acclaim, Binney is emerging as a truly important figure, not just for his bold alto playing, which always seems to be rooted in compositional thought, but also for his writing, which is instantly recognizable. While his works for larger ensembles feature heavy use of counterpoint and signature stylistic conceits like tenor and alto saxophones playing in unison, his compositions are no less distinctive when pared down. With Simon's advanced left/right hand independence and Binney's carefully chosen notes, they imply more than what is actually played.
It would be missing the point to define this collaboration in terms of one player accompanying the other. While there are clear solo demarcations and structures that place one instrument more out front, this is a true collaboration, more about a collective sound and a combined aesthetic. While there are no sharp edges here, there are a variety of emotions on display, from the pensive lyricism of "Ask the Dust to the more joyous "True to Life (reprise).
Contrasting the light with the dark, the introspective with the outgoing, Fiestas de Agosto is the result of two players working with a shared understanding and a clearly similar set of musical goals.
Track Listing: Dawn of Indifference; Fiestas; Coast of the Desert; Ask the Dust; True to Life; August; Moment; Unknown Path; I Hear a Rhapsody; Immersion; True to Life (reprise); When You Return; Lifelong.
Personnel: David Binney: alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute (2, 8, 12); Edward Simon: piano; Donny McCaslin: additional alto flute, flute and clarinet (8).