Phil Grenadier / Bruno Raberg Duo: Plunge (2012)
Plunge is a captivating CD that features the formidable duo of bassist Bruno Råberg and trumpeter Phil Grenadier. Each musician brings to the table their unique background and decades of experience: Råberg hails from Sweden, and in his twenties he played with the cream of Swedish jazz musicians, including trombonist Eje Thelin, pianist Bobo Stenson and renowned singer Monica Zetterlund. With the magic of Scandinavian jazz firmly in his bones, Råberg emigrated to America in the early eighties, and since that time has played with top-notch musicians such as multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, drummer Matt Wilson and keyboardist John Medeski.
Born in San Francisco, Grenadier is one of the famed Grenadier brothers, along with bassist Larry and guitarist Steve. At age 17 he was voted "Best Jazz Soloist" by Downbeat magazine, and throughout his career he has played with an illustrious roster of musicians, including everyone from singer Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Kenny Barron to bassist Steve Swallow.
It's hard to go wrong with two artists of such high caliber, and indeed, Plunge finds both musicians at the top of their game. The CD offers nineteen pieces, ranging from forty-five seconds to six-and-a-half minutes. The centerpiece is a sensitive rendition of saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman"; according to Råberg's liner notes, the inspiration for the CD came after playing this tune in a quartet that included Grenadier: "I 'heard' a rich, erratic, and busy soundscape in which the beautiful melody would live. I saw images of desolate streets and a lonely person's inner turmoil, conflicting emotions, and despair. The melody symbolizes the person's heart and soul, which is striving to survive." The duo's take on this classic song is absolutely piercing, and its use of electronic effects to amplify and distort the instruments adds to the song's haunting atmosphere.
The remainder of the songs are duo improvisations, which draw from the heart of Coleman's tune and offer deeply felt musical contemplations. Standouts include the gorgeous "Last Train to Seville," where Råberg's powerful bass creates a drone that Grenadier dances on top of and dives through. "Five Short Pieces" is a suite of musical haiku whose elliptical contours possess a refreshing sparseness, while "Ushas/Quadratic" has elements of free funk, with a deliciously ominous feeling throughout. Mention must also be made of the compelling double duos on "Area 51," "Triangulum," and "Quadratic," where the pair recorded improvisations, and then improvised again over those tracks, yielding multi-layered music full of fascinating depth.
Throughout the CD, each musician plays with remarkable clarity, and Råberg's inventive sound-design stretches the music into intriguing sonic shapes. A beautiful work that covers a tremendous amount of ground, Plunge is fearless, honest and unpredictable; maybe this is the "plunge" of the title, the brave dive that both musicians take into the unknown land of improvisation, as well as the fragile interior of the human heart.
Track Listing: Reveille; Last Train to Seville; Five Short Pieces: Seiryuu - Azure Dragon, Byakko - White Tiger, Suzaku - Vermillion Bird, Genbu - Black Tortoise, Ouryu - Yellow Dragon; Lonely Woman; Heartwood; Ushas/Quadratic; Intersections I - IV: Part 1 - Moving Cycles, Part 2 - Line and Sphere, Part 3 - Sand Clock, Part 4 - Isomorphic; Area 51; The Outermost Island; Triangulum; Lizrael; Intersections V: Part 5 - Being and Time.
Personnel: Phil Grenadier: trumpet; Bruno Råberg: acoustic bass, sound design.