Gary Husband & Alex Machacek: Now
The inevitable consequence of that hang was new collaboration, and nowhere was this more evident than on Gary Husband's two-volume Dirty & Beautiful series, released in 2010 and 2012, where the drummer/keyboardist collaborated with a bevy of musicians. Amongst them was guitarist Alex Machacek, whose own Abstract Logix discographystarting with his impressive 2006 debut, [sic], through to 2012's FATrevealed not just a guitarist of note, but a composer capable of mind-bending complexity and almost unparalleled sophistication.
But while Husband is certainly capable of knotty compositional constructs, he has also proven increasingly capable of deep, in the moment spontaneity, in particular on his two remarkable solo piano outings, pre-Abstract Logix: Alternity Records' 2006 release, A Meeting of Spirits interpretations of the music of John McLaughlin, with whom the keyboardist/drummer would ultimately collaborate in the legendary guitarist's 4th Dimension bandand The Things I See (2001, reissued Angel Air, 2004), inspired by the music of Allan Holdsworth, another legendary guitarist and Husband collaborator over the past three decades.
Husband's track with Machacek on Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2 was so successful that it seemed only a matter of time before the two would collaborate again, and Now is the result. But unlike their previous meeting, where Husband played drums to Machacek's layered electric guitar and programming, Nowinstigated by Abstract Logix label head Souvik Duttais something else entirely: an intimate, largely acoustic duo recording where Husband contributes five compositions to Machacek's four, and the emphasis is on a blend of compositional acumen and improvisational élan.
While the compositions from both artists blend seamlessly into a cohesive whole, it's generally easy to distinguish their writing, although there are cases where it's less than obvious. Machacek's "Austrian Bluegrass" begins with a two-chord motif that's more closely aligned with a recognizable jazz traditionsomething unusual in itself for the Austrian-born, now Los Angeles-resident guitaristbut its main theme, short though it may be, is pure, idiosyncratic Machacek. Still, it's a rare instance where the guitarist has written a "head-solo-head" composition, rather than one filled with knotty themes and episodic shifts. While there's little to actually align it from a harmonic perspective, the warm tone of Machacek's guitar and Husband's integral improvisational flights and accompanimentat first, using the body of his piano as a percussion instrument to bolster Machacek's pedal tone-based solo, then moving to the keys to create harmonic motion for the guitarist's shift to a more linear approachfeel somehow aligned to the form-meets-freedom aesthetic of John Abercrombie's '70s/'80s duo with Ralph Towner.
"BlaBlaBla" is another matter entirely. Filled with stops and startsand three-chord motifs that rhythmically reflect the song's titleit's a more oblique piece of writing, its dynamics gradually building with the guitarist's increasingly labyrinthine melody as it leads to a middle section where form seems to be dispensed with entirely. Husband and Machacek engage in some flat-out free play, their particularly impressive in-tandem work a combination of Husband's exploitation of his instrument's entire range with a stronger touch and more dramatic flourishes, while Machacek keeps up with a juxtaposition of volume pedal swells and more rapid-fire lines.
If Now reflects both players' clear upbringing in the jazz tradition, the music they playand the way that they play itis more often than not distanced from it, subsumed into something more personal. Husband's "Bing of the Vale" is one inevitable consequence, its lines possessing an unmistakable sense of swing, even if they're more melodically abstract, with Machacek running above and below the pianist, player each occasionally shifting to chords to allow the other a brief moment as the primary melodist, but all ultimately revolving around two-chord motifs that provide both with plenty of moving space. Machacek supports Husband's solo with some remarkably closed voicings, the pianist returning the favor during the guitarist's equally virtuosic solo with some rhythm-heavy block chords that make it completely understandable why it's not uncommon to find drummers doubling as pianists (Jack DeJohnette) and vice versa (George Colligan).
While this is a largely acoustic session, Machacek injects the occasional technological tinge, like the burbling electronics beneath the opening of his "Gaggia" or, on the same track, the appearance of some ethereal landscapes in the weeds at the end of his solo, leading to Husband's initially delicate but ultimately more percussive turn.
But if Now might appear to be a headier date, two of Husband's compositions, in particular, demonstrate a more lyrical side to this deeply connected duo. "Forever and Beyond" may possess hints of darkness, but so, too, does it travel to more beautiful terrain, Husband's a cappella intro a paradoxical combination of the two. Machacek demonstrates, in his solo, a capacity for sparer elegance, while Husband's soloone of his best of the setis a jazz lesson in a nutshell, and the only proof required to support his position as John McLaughlin's only constant companion in the now eight-year history of the 4th Dimension, last heard on Now Here This (Abstract Logix, 2012).
The album closer, Husband's "Spring Song," is positively and unashamedly beautiful, start to finish. With Machacek switching to finger-picked acoustic guitar, it's a folkloric ending that combines harmonic sophistication with more straightforward majesty; even more redolent of the Abercrombie/Towner axis, it's one of the most striking compositions Husband has ever written, and one which will hopefully become a regular part of his repertoire, irrespective of context.
While the naked intimacy and vulnerability of playing duo in the moment is not new to Husband, having taken those qualities even further on his solo piano outings, it is new for Machacek, who often labors long and hard in both the recording and post-production processes. Recorded over just three days, Now presents a completely different side to Machacek's most individual voice, while Husband continues to evolve as a writer and pianist of significance. An anomaly in both artists' catalogues, Husband and Machacek's unfettered interplay and utterly exposed sense of purpose, as well as their considerable strength and sophisticationboth as composers and consistently exhilarating performersis hopefully just the beginning of a long and fruitful musical friendship.
Track Listing: Gently; Bing of the Vale; Forever and Beyond; Gaggia; City Nights 2013; Austrian Bluegrass; Cinema Lullaby; BlaBlaBla; Spring Song.
Personnel: Gary Husband: piano; Alex Machacek: guitar.
Record Label: Abstract Logix
Style: Beyond Jazz