Since they first documented their work together on Essentials
(Catwalk, 2012), bassist Daniel Schläppi and pianist Marc Copland
have refined the musical language of the duo. Essentials
was followed by More Essentials
(Catwalk, 2015) and saw the establishment of a pattern: standards, original compositions, compositions played by Miles Davis
and, not least, compositions played by pianist Bill Evans
' famous trio with drummer Paul Motian
and bassist Scott LaFaro
It's no surprise that Schläppi and Copland would choose Evans and LaFaro as the lodestar of their collaboration. More than anything, they have epitomized the free, intuitive and equal dialog between instruments and a break with the dominance of the piano. It could be seen as a paradox that such distinctive stylists as Evans and Copland would be interested in letting go of the privileged position the instrument has had, but the paradox is that giving more freedom to the bass actually frees the piano and enhances the possibilities of the music. Once again, Schläppi and Copland take advantage of this freedom on their third duo record: Alice's Wonderland
. Naturally, the title could be a reference to a track found on the iconic Evans/LaFaro/Motian album Sunday at the Village Vanguard
(Riverside, 1961), simply called "Alice in Wonderland."
The cliché of the bass is that it provides the bottom and the groove of the music, but in the hands of Schläppi it soars just as freely as the melodic flights Copland takes on the tangents. True, he can pluck the strings in steady structural patterns on the opener, "Everything I Love," but he can just as easily take charge and lead the conversation. On the previous albums, this was especially shown on the pieces called "Essentials," but it's a quality that has been kept in the music and defines it: There's no fixed relationship between top and bottom and solo and accompaniment. Instead tonal colors, harmonies, melodies and themes are explored that cover the joyful, glistening reading of the standard "All of Me," the bluesy sophistication of "The Other Way Around" and an elegiacally airy version of LaFaro's "Jade Visions."
The album closes with a live recording of "Blue in Green," a composition introduced in the duo's repertoire on More Essentials
. It shows that Schläppi and Copland are just as powerful live as in the studio and the next step for them might be a complete concert recording. As it is, Alice's Wonderland
is another worthy addition to the duo's discography.