Three albums by keyboards and drums duostwo of them recorded in the early 1990s, the third in the noughtiesdemonstrate the wide and varied territory this pared down instrumentation can inhabit.
Andrew Hill / Chico Hamilton
Dreams Come True
On paper, the duet of late pianist Andrew Hill and drummer Chico Hamilton seems odd. Hamilton is the inventive timekeeper par excellence as well as a great textural player. Hill, especially in small groupings, is all about ebb and flow, playing around the rhythm rather than inside of it. On first listening to Dreams Come True, that impression is reinforced. Culled from a 1993 studio session, this date sat in the can until 2008. Hill and Hamilton played together only once before at a jazz festival, so their history seems to lie more in appreciation of each other's abilities than any long-standing musical partnership. Yet somehow, the music begins making sense. The players are indeed coming from two different directions, yet they somehow meet in an equitable place.
Most of the compositions are either by Hill or Hamilton. Hill's "Watch That Dream" finds Hamilton playing a straight rhythm on tambourine as Hill essays the beautiful melody and its extrapolations in free time, resulting in an 11 minute piece that pushes and pulls at the listener simultaneously. Hamilton's "And The Drums Sing" is a gorgeous melody with his malleted tom-toms creating patterns of waves in accompaniment.
Everything seems to mesh on Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw Nuff," where Hill and Hamilton are chasing each other, slowing down, speeding up and dropping out until finally coming together at the end with an abrupt bluesy flourish. It's a wonderful performance, worthy of two masters and it is a superb example of the element of surprise that can still crop up in jazz. Hamilton and Hill are operating from different streams, yet, more often than not they blend to create a unique whole.
Dennis Warren / Chris Chalfant
Boston-based improvisers, pianist Chris Chalfant and drummer Dennis Warren are eminently more suited to each other. Perhaps that's why the element of surprise is a little less prevalent on this duo session. New'd Music is another historic release, stemming back to 1992, before either had released their first albums.
Consisting of three lengthy improvisations, it's impressive just how in synch these two are. Chalfant plays with a lot of energy. While Cecil Taylor might be a point of reference, she is clearly reaching beyond his influence even at this early date. She frequently will stop and dwell on a repetitive motif that she works subtly, warping it into new shapes and phrases. Warren, whose Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble has been a mainstay of the Boston jazz scene since the late 1980s, seems to shadow her lines, commenting and pushing them along. Although Warren is best known as an energy drummer, here he shows his sensitive side with several slow interludes that find him shading and coloring the music, and some strong driving, rhythmic, almost dancing interludes. Chalfant and Warren are well-suited to each other but considering the vintage of this session, perhaps an update is warranted.
Jasper van't Hof / Fredy Studer
Dutch pianist/keyboardist Jasper Van't Hof was among the early wave of Dutch players to try to find his own voice in improvised music. He eventually settled on a fusion friendly style that incorporated electronics. Swiss percussionist Fredy Studer has made some interesting music that straddles the line between free improv, ethnic incursionsHeavy Cairo Traffic (Intuition, 1997), recorded with Koch/Schutz/Studer and the Egyptian El Nin Troop, is one of the great unsung records of the 1990s, electronics and pure percussion revelry. Van't Hof and Studer have played together, on and off since the 1980s.
Pangramm is a set of nine atmostpheric pieces that are rooted in electronic instruments. While this disc has its moments (the opening section of the title track is particularly riveting), too much of it sounds cluttered and messy. Some sounds are particularly miscast, especially when van't Hof uses that ersatz synth string setting. Many of Studer's rhythms are leaden and over emphatic. Pangramm is way too redolent of some of the less fond memories of the 1970s and a surprising disappointment.
Tracks and Personnel
Dreams Come True
Tracks: Ohho; Three Notes & A Brush; Watch That Dream; And The Drums Sing; Clifford's Gone; Shaw Nuff; Bless That Dream, Maybe Hope; Composition B.
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano; Chico Hamilton: drums, tambourine.
Tracks: Soon Enough; Be; New'd Music.
Personnel: Dennis Warren: drums; Chris Chalfant: piano.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Pangramm; Iks Kaks Kander; Le Marquis De Besancon; Hopped Up; Homwoggle; Zero Hour; Jigaboo; Witticism; Irregular Benefit.
Personnel: Jasper van't Hof: keyboards, synthesizer, sound modules; Fredy Studer: drums, percussion, electronic devices.