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A Trio of Piano/Drum Duets

Elliott Simon By

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Sam Ulano/Steve Elmer
Sam and Steve/Steve and Sam: Brothers in Swing
Self Released

Simon Nabatov/Tom Rainey
Steady Now
Leo Records

Phillip Strange/Larry Marshall
In the Moment
Summit Reccords

The image of a 'cocktail' pianist with brushes and bass accompaniment defines jazz for many. But what if one element is absent? In these three cases, it is the person responsible for holding things down: the bassist. The result, in these very different performances, is a forced intimacy between piano and drums.

A legend in that secretive world where the fine points of flamlets and choke cymbal technique are discussed, it is safe to say that Sam Ulano has impacted more drummers than any man alive. The author of 1000s of books on every conceivable aspect of drumming, the early editions of which bring collectible prices, Ulano is also an NYC treasure who has been in the business forever. His long out-of- print, but highly desirable children's LP, Sam the Drummer Tells Famous Fairytales for Your Children, is also the stuff that engenders mythology. At 85, he is still writing, teaching and with the release of Sam and Steve/Steve and Sam: Brothers in Swing, happily still swinging. Here, Ulano is partnered with pianist Steve Elmer who quickly grasps that Ulano's wonderfully classic style is as to the point as his instructional books. In the process, the two get back to a time before the Charlie Parker revolution to produce a most enjoyable hour-plus program that, with brushes and sticks, swings across multiple tempos. These two take turns at both comping each other and joining as one for a session filled with classics like "I Can't Give You Anything But Love , "Moonglow and an "Alexander's Ragtime Band that closes things out with a surprising American Indian flair.

Free jazz is somewhat of a misnomer for Steady Now, the recent collaboration between pianist Simon Nabatov and drummer Tom Rainey. Perhaps it is due to each player's crisp attack, their clear musical intimacy (facilitated in this format) or the configurable nature of their tandem sounds. There is a tight structure at work here but these nine individual cuts do however develop against an open improvisatory landscape and there is plenty of freedom to satisfy the most musically anarchistic listener. Still, it is for the most part what this duo constructs as a unit that gives this date its urgency. Pieces tend to begin with a sonic groping that lead into allout bimodal assaults and then return to a more gentle exploration. Nabatov is acutely adept at mood-inducing chordal figures that when played with these rhythmic diversities can build from sparse to frenetic, as in the apt opener "Open Air . Synergy is also a theme throughout and results in the changing-on-a-dime sequence of "Cold Cuts , the quasi-melodic Latin-tinged "Não Olhe Para Trás and the charming knob-twiddling sounds of "Crackle 'n Pop .

Rounding out this trio of duets is In the Moment: free takes on a slew of standards performed by pianist Phillip Strange and drummer Larry Marshall. Some sacred ground is tread upon here, like an extended improv off the changes of "Take Five , which, depending on your orientation, is creative, sacrilege or both. These players do posess elegant touches and use them to their advantage in lovely studies of Nat Adderley's "The Old Country , "Someday My Prince will Come and Rodgers & Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones . Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You swings while new music rounds out what turns out to be a delightfully free-flowing meeting.

Tracks and Personnel

Brothers in Swing

Tracks:After You've Gone; On The Alamo; Dinah; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; All Alone; Cute; Moonglow; Them There Eyes; You're Nobody; It's Been So Long; My Buddy; Thou Swell; Way Down Yonder In New Orleans; China Boy; Alexander's Ragtime Band.

Personnel: Sam Ulano: drums and vocals; Steve Elmer: piano.

Steady Now

Tracks: Open Air; Cold Cuts; Não Olhe Para Trás; Bird's Eyes View; Agrinte; Crackle 'n Pop; Four Fofo; Vamp Vitale; Fare Well.

Personnel: Simon Nabatov: piano, small objects, cracklebox; Tom Rainey: drums.

In the Moment

Tracks: The Old Country; Interlude; Take Five; In the Moment; Brazilian Heart; I Remember You; Absinthe; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Someday My Prince Will Come; My Paradise.

Personnel: Phillip Strange: piano; Larry Marshall: drums.


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