Jeremy Steig/Vic Juris: Improvised (2004)
Improvised, the debut duet album from super-veteran flautist Jeremy Steig and almost-as-seasoned guitarist Vic Juris, is just that: an album of almost completely improvised material. Recorded in Steig's home (don't be put off by that, by the way, because home recording has come a long, long way) in a situation where the two musicians played in separate rooms, connected only by headphones to each other, it's spontaneous musical communication of the highest order.
The album consists of 22 invented-on-the-spot originals and two standards, and only one of the originalsthe eerie, minor-key "Two Act Play"crosses the three-minute mark. The rest are brief, exploratory sketches where flute and acoustic guitar find a common terrain, look around for a little while, and recede before things get stale. It's atmosphere over formal composition, impressionism over meaty musical content, but these pieces are neither muzak nor pastel. Rather, they are a sort of music where the small gestures are the ones that matter: the brief flirtation with dissonance and "out" playing of "The Edge," Steig's quoting of "Dixie" in "F the Patriot," Juris' soundbox percussion on "Pick and Roll"memorable, fascinating details that occur in deft, fleeting musical statements often based on no more than, say, a blues scale.
It's somewhat inherent that in a flute/guitar duet, the flute can seem more prominent, but Juris does much more than merely accompany Steig on these pieces; it's a two-way dialogue all the way. There's an audible playfulness in these recordings, too, that makes it abundantly clear that these two men aren't merely engaged: they're having fun.
The musicians here don't sound merely comfortable with each other: they sound joyously happy and relieved, as if they had been wishing for such a sympathetic partner to appear. The chordal, quickly responsive comping of Juris' acoustic seem tailor made to Steig's ruminations, and the same relaxed intimacy pervades the two covers. Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," while completely musically faithful, has been effectively "de-bebopped" (the nervous, skittering intensity of the original has been replaced with the rockin'-chair groove of this musical setting), despite the fact that Steig's solo therein swings mercilessly. Thelonious Monk's "Friday the Thirteenth" is even better, though, with a partially vocalized flute solo that is downright, and perhaps here incongruously, intense.
The two standards are, in fact, so good that to this listener they point to the next recorded step for this terrific new duo. Fine though the improvised numbers that make up most of Improvised are, I'm strongly hoping for a followup of more composed material, be it Steig's and Juris' own pieces or others'. This is too good a combination to end here.
Track Listing: 1. Villa of Funk 2. A Quiet Moment 3. Pick and Roll 4. Billie's Bounce 5. Buffle Off to Shuffalo 6. Theme and Dreams 7. F the Patriot 8. Frac's Domain 9. Shinigawa Station 10. The Edge 11. Solo I 12. Solo II 13. Back Beat 14. The Carnival 15. Friday the Thirteenth 16. Hide and Freak 17. Vocal Ease 18. Freescape 19. Sweet Suite 20. The Climb 21. Trills and Spills 22. E Whiz 23. Two Act Play 24. Southern Exposure
Personnel: Jeremy Steig: flute, bass flute; Vic Juris: acoustic guitar