The New York-based team of guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson has been playing as a duo over the course of the past twenty years. It is, indeed, a shame that knowledge of the quality of this music appears to be a state secret.
Their collaborative What's Going On? provides not only a keen display of their playing ability, but quite a diverting set list. The pair opens with Hank Jones' "Interface," then slide into Marvin Gaye's 1970s R&B hit "What's Going On?"a tune meaningful to both musicians as an ecological warning. The traditional spiritual, "Deep River," follows and, in turn, leads into Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan."
This cleverly interleaved mix of tunes is typical of an album that presents standards, jazz tunes and a few originals. There is a huge amount of music being presented and when Ferguson takes a bass solo, as he does on most of these compositions, he gets a great big woody sound from his instrument. Dempsey's role as principal melodist clearly identifies his ability to play lyrically in any context. As a contrast, Ferguson plays the melody on Hoagy Charmichael's classic "Stardust," while Dempsey comps, Django-style. On Mal Waldron's closing "Soul Eyes," Ferguson delivers a beautiful arco solo.
When Dempsey and Ferguson play in unison, as on the bassist's "Julie's Tabouleh," it's yet another musical treat from this fine album.
Personnel: Tom Dempsey: guitar: Tim Ferguson: bass.