Naked confrontation, or a pact made between two individuals to make something from nothing... freely improvised duets are, if not the "meat and potatoes" or backbone of free music, then at least one of the truest expressions of such an art form. A dialogue formed between two individuals, each with their own language, is that call-and-response vaguely outlined somewhere in "Sister Sadie" but run through the process of "as if one's life depended on it." Such an encounter is that which occurred between pianist Borah Bergman and the late saxophonist Thomas Chapin in June 1997 at the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival in Toronto, one of only two recorded appearances (the other was Inversions on Mumworks).
Subdivided into five segments, with the fourth part consisting of three subsections, the piece "A Suite for Terry Chapin" makes up the entire set. Despite their structural and textural differences, these seven distinct collective improvisations maintain a strong degree of continuityand vice versa. Bergman is, for those unfamiliar with his work, at first glance dipping into a well similar to Cecil Taylor or Alex von Schlippenbach, in that he bases his improvisations from clusters of notes, continually altering them yet retaining the same basic cell motif. Yet Bergman is considerably more minimalist in his approach, granting far more credence to repetition than many of his brethren.
This mates well with Chapin for, at least in this setting, the saxophonist either takes the cells as cues for his own improvisations, constructing his own nagging phrases a la Lacy or Tchicai, or rides atop the volcanic, rolling density created by Bergman. Despite rather pointillistic tendencies, the pianist is nevertheless able to fuse those points into a powerful kinetic force, off-kilter as it may be. Chapin and Bergman are both players who drive with technique and soul in equal portions; "Part 4C" begins with a rolling Waldron-esque funk as Chapin hums into his (possibly disassembled) alto, infusing it with a shakuhachi-like sonority until the grit gives way to a briefly reflective, then jagged Bergman solo.
The piano-saxophone duo is a format that is not always successful. I recently reviewed a disc in the same format, with similar tendencies toward minimalism in the pianist's chair and keening, soulful reed workyet the joy of hearing a performance like this is that, while the music is "of a piece," there remains a distinctness and a moody spontaneity to its execution that keeps your attention. Chapin and Bergman are rare birds indeed; it is unfortunate that this was to be their last recorded dialogue.
Personnel: Borah Bergman (piano); Tom Chapin (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute).