Duo records involving drummers aren't that common in the world of straight-ahead jazz. While it's never been an infrequent option for avant-gardists (and there are some truly legendary examples, not the least of which are John Coltrane
and Rashied Ali
's Interstellar Space
, Max Roach
and Cecil Taylor
's Historic Concerts
, and Peter Brötzmann
and Hamid Drake
's Dried Rat Dog
), commercial limitations or simply a lack of adventurousness have made this kind of pairing rare outside the realm of musicians most well-known for their chance-taking and experimental propensities. All of which is to say that Billy Jones
's effort here, involving a series of duo performances with a range of players, and in a mainstream, accessible vein, is a welcome endeavor indeed.
Aside from a few sideman appearances, Jones is not a widely-known presence, and that's true of most of his compatriots here. Although there are a couple notable names (pianist Mick Rossi
and tenor saxman Gary Meek
), most of these guys are, like Jones himself, relatively under-represented. But the music they've produced for this record is well-played, enjoyable jazz, adept in documenting Jones's sympathetic presence in partnership with a wide diversity of instrumentation, including not just saxophones and piano but vibes (Tony Miceli
), flute (Kenny Stahl), bass clarinet (Stu Reynolds), and voice (Scotty Wright
Jones explains the guiding concept of the record as one that "places the drums in constant dialogue with one other instrumentalist," the goal of which is to "raise the drums from its traditional role of accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice." He's gone some distance in that direction, especially on the opener, "3's a Crowd," where he and altoist George Young
engage in some terrific give-and-take on a calypso-flavored theme, or "Just Above the Clouds," in which Jones helps stir Stahl's flute in cooking up a funky stew. On many of the other tracks, however, there's less of an overt dialogue than one might like (even on tracks like "John Cage Scared My Dog," with Rossi and "For John and Elvin," with Meek, despite the fact that those tracks are purely improvised). Rather than taking the lead or prodding his colleagues directly, Jones is usually content to provide disciplined, tasteful support for his partners. Not that he isn't a gifted drummer in this regardindeed, he's remarkably fluid and always makes appropriate choices, especially on brushes, which he uses skillfully on a number of the tracks. But it isn't quite as much a realization of the idea of dialogue as he was perhaps hoping for when putting the record together.
Even so, it should be emphasized that there's some fine jazz on display here, definitely worthwhile in its own right. In addition to the aforementioned tracks with Young and Stahl, highlights include "Chant of the Soul," with yearning, wordless vocals from Wright, and "Ellie's Dream," a lovely piece with pianist George Genna
, which closes the record in style. Throughout the record, Jones makes a convincing case that in the right hands, the drums offer abundant musical possibilities for this formateven for those in traditional jazz circles.