Sometimes lightning strikes twice. As proof, legendary expatriate Bobby Few has teamed with fellow sound explorer Avram Fefer for two fresh releases of very different character, and with near-perfect results.
On the aptly-titled Kindred Spirits, Few and Fefer offer a slower, more blues-laden repertoire than the more free jazz-oriented Heavenly Places. But don't let this accessibility fool you; both players retain the same lucid command over their respective instruments that was present in their previous endeavors together.
On piano, Few fills each song with majestic, lush playing, which proves the right approach to fill those awkward pauses that can so often occur in duet performances. By playing in this near-classical style (arpeggios and all), Few has come up with a fresh take on an old song list, which includes not one but four Thelonious Monk compositions. Monk and Few couldn't be more different in their own unique styles, but here the music is made fresh by Few's taking of a complete opposite approach as listeners would expect from a Monk cover. Very cool results.
Kindred Spirits also includes two Charles Mingus tunes and three Fefer originals. A heart-breaking interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" makes an appearance on the album as well.
While hardly diverse in repertoire, this duo will still manage to keep both casual listeners and avid enthusiasts at bay with its uncompromising explorations within the individual songs. These two are not merely playing the tunes; their love of the original source material can be heard in the slow, laid-back feel of the interpretations. Fefer alternates throughout the album between tenor and soprano saxophones and clarinet, obviously feeling at home on each. Capping off the album are two versions of Fefer's composition, "Kingdom Come," one with him on clarinet, the other on tenor sax. He's calling for a comparison, but most listeners will find something amazing in both cuts. The way Fefer handles each instrument, along with the instruments' own sound, helps provide a different mood to both versions of the same song, which, in theory, is something all jazz practitioners aim to achieve.
Jazz duets can be a tricky business to begin with. Not every experiment in the two-musician form can yield the same alchemy-like results that Bill Evans and Jim Hall famously accomplished on Undercurrent, or the same perfection that Chet Baker and Paul Bley managed on their underrated 1985 masterpiece, Diane. But Few and Fefer have successfully found that place between true musical improvisation and the firm roots of the twelve-bar blues. And they've found it together, as demonstrated in these two collaborations.
What fitting titles these two masters of separate generations picked for their releases. Kindred spirits? Yes, I would have to agree. And, separately, a heavenly place? I'd agree with that one, too. I mean, what else would a music lover call a perfect fusion of experimentation and aesthetic grasp?
And that's the place where these giants bring us.
Personnel: Avram Fefer, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet;
Bobby Few, piano.