Umberto Petrin / Pheeroan akLaaf Duo: Clusone, Italy, July 21, 2012
The second began as a solo piano ballad, Petrin playing broken arpeggios contrapuntally in both hands, while akLaaf contemplated with closed eyes in silent meditation for a while, before joining in with mallets. Slowly, this beautiful ballad revealed itself to be Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight." Petrin played unusual but attractively disembodied harmonies, like something you might hear from pianists Borah Bergman or Ran Blake. AkLaaf switched to brushes and just as quickly altered the mood by playing several thundering bashes with sticks.
So went the first two "A" sections of the tune, changing to improvisation on the bridge, no longer following the structure of the harmony or melody. The improvised conversation ended by Petrin recognizably playing the last two measures of the bridge, in time, then playing single-note runs followed by harmonized fragments of the melody. AkLaaf conjured up dramatic change with a polyrythmic groove that caused the listener to hear two distinctly separate voices, as if piano and drums were playing two different tunes. The contrast worked beautifully.
Suddenly, more thundering hits from akLaaf turned into a funk groove, a moment of free improvisation, and a quick shift back to Petrin, who once again clearly defined Monk's harmony on the last two bars of the bridge. The last "A" section was played delicately in time while akLaaf dissolved imperceptibly into empty space, leaving the ending to solo piano.
The third piece featured another Monk composition, "San Francisco Holiday." After playing the melody, Petrin stood up and moved to the side and leaving the stage to akLaaf, who played a frenzied solo over a constant, hypnotic high-hat beat on 2 and 4, in the vein of Art Blakey. When Petrin re-entered, his percussive approach melded with the drummer's groove to make it swing like Monk.
The set ended at just over 35 minutes but not without an enthusiastic call for an encore. The two quickly returned and Petrin began slowly improvising thematic motifs from Monk's "Misterioso." Normally a B-flat blues, this version was seriously deconstructed. The original melody slowly took form, accelerating gradually into tempo with akLlaaf moving the pulse forward. Petrin's solo was a contrapuntal beauty as he shadowed a liberal interpretation of the melody in his left hand, using his right elbow for chords while improvising single-note lines with the fingers of the right hand. If Monk wrote a suite for J.S. Bach, it might sound like this. An excellent version and worthy of the name "Misterioso," akLaaf played to the beat of a different drummer again, offering another level of rhythmic counterpoint until both players united together in a perfect ending.
The Petrin-akLaaf duo is pairing of equals that demonstrates the spirit of creative music in a most convincing manner. Not that the performance was too short, but this concert was a good example of a set that you wish would have lasted longer.