Sax/Piano Duos: All or Nothing at All & Vienna Dialogues
Armen Donelian/Marc Mommaas
Dave Liebman/Bobby Avey
These albums not only share a format, the sax/piano duo, but also a booklet notes writer in Dave Liebman, the soprano saxophonist on Vienna Dialogues. But there are also significant differences. All or Nothing at All is jazz featuring a program of standards and originals, while Vienna Dialogues is what once might have been described as a Third Stream project, Liebman and pianist Bobby Avey exploring a repertoire of 19th Century European (mostly German) art songs, or lieder. In his notes for All or Nothing at All, Liebman ably assesses the risks and rewards of the duo format, where, next to solo playing, "one is as close to being naked in front of the public as is possible .
Pianist Armen Donelian and tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas convey many emotions and moods on their CD (recorded in concert at The New School) and employ a variety of approaches and, in Mommaas' case, wide-ranging tonal colors. Each track is carefully sculpted; i.e., the title song begins with a light-toned sax melody lead, easing into an improvisation over a piano with a walking bass line, then heating up as piano and sax dialogue in phrases breaking up the flowing 4/4 before a complex piano solo. Other highlights include Donelian's "Stargazer , with pedal chords and a sax solo ruminating in long tones before breaking out in arpeggios, and Mommaas' "Children's Song , a waltz lullaby with a lovely light touch.
Liebman notes that lieder "are the foundation of the modern popular song and in their own stately and often serene way, the songs on Vienna Dialogues are as melodious as any standard. But they aren't nearly as adaptable to rhythmic swing as standards and Liebman and Avey do little to jazz them up, at least rhythmically. Improvisation is mostly elaboration and embellishment, with Liebman's sax sometimes taking off on longer flights reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' codas. But you have to like the likes of Brahms, Schubert, Handel and Mahler, among others, really to dig this CD.
Tracks and Personnel
All or Nothing at All
Tracks: Invitation; All Or Nothing At All; Renewal; Children's Song; Stargazer.
Personnel: Armen Donelian: piano; Marc Mommaas: saxophone
Tracks: Romance Op. 94 No. 2; Etude in E Flat Minor Op. 10 No. 6; May Breezes Op. 62 No. 1 (from Song without Words); Immer Leiser Wird Mein Schlummer Op. 105 No. 2; Sonata #6; Tranenregen (from Die Schone Mullerin)/Wasserflut (from Winterreise D911); Fleur des Bles (1880); Der Einsame im Herbst (from Das Lied von der Erde).
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone; Bobby Avey: piano.