Dual-piano recordings pose a distinct challenge. Given the instrument's range, how do two players work together and avoid clashing? Marc Copland and Bill Carrothers provide one answer on No Choice, an album of primarily jazz standards, plus one free improv piece and a remarkable look at a classic Neil Young tune.
With Carrothers on the left channel and Copland on the right, it's easy enough to distinguish their voices. Both pianists possess the kind of listening skills that allow them to intuit when to play and when to lay out, and where they should focus in terms of range and harmony. But, in a choice that came about completely organically, Carrothers works on the lower half of the piano for the most part, while Copland often occupies the upper register.
That's not to say that Carrothers is restricted to being an accompanistthe position usually associated with the piano's lower register. Equal opportunity is provided for each pianist to lead the way, though more often than not they move forward as integrated whole. This makes their abstract harmonic choices on classics like "You and the Night and the Music and "Take the A Train all the more arresting, and their ability to morph Miles Davis' "Blue in Green into a myriad of other shapes and forms simply uncanny.
Both are exceptional players whose impressionistic approaches brought new meaning to standards with 2005 Pirouet releases: I Love Paris (Carrothers) and Some Love Songs (Copland). They are disposed to an oblique approach that still lets the core of songs like "Bemsha Swing shine through, but the four hands employed here also make for some of the most unsettled versions of standards either player has done.
Two versions of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman bookend the disc. If she was lonely before, she's positively bleak now. The first take dispenses with Coleman's haunting melody up front, allowing both players to head in other directions, while the second takes its time to find the melody. The two approaches demonstrate just how openminded Copland and Carrothers are.
Their take on Neil Young's classic "The Needle and the Damage Done is a surprising highlight. Carrothers' intro alludes to the wartime melodies he has explored on albums like Armistice 1918 (Sketch, 2004). When the melody emerges, shared by both pianists, the harmonies that support it are altered, but in a way that remains faithful to Young's inherent folksiness.
The disc has been issued with two covers, one placing Copland's name first, the other Carrothers', which is one way of saying that No Choice is an album without a single leader. Instead, it finds two artists on equal ground, deeply committed to the interpretive, interactive and conversational fundamentals of improvisation.
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Personnel: Marc Copland: piano, right channel; Bill Carrothers: piano, left channel.