In 1941 Duke Ellington recorded four tunes including "Pitter Panther Patter"with his superb bassist Jimmy Blanton, introducing both the string bass' potential as a lyrical lead instrument and a particularly effective duo format. It can give the pianist a freedom not found in solo performance, the bass reiterating some of the music's structural components; for the bassist, it's an opportunity to share the lead. In these three dialogues there's a balance between chamber-music dynamics and rhythmic vigor, with some very different musicians finding an effective outlet in the form.
Pianist Omer Klein and bassist Haggai Cohen Milo are Israeli musicians who spent a year as roommates at the New England Conservatory in 2005-6, playing together at every opportunity. At the end of the year, the two went into a recording studio. Duet usually gravitates towards slow and medium tempos, emphasizing the resonance of the two instruments in a program of originals (five by Klein, three by Cohen Milo) that merge the modal and rhythmic intensity of Israeli and Arabic musics with strong classical influences (Brahms and Debussy are at times close to the surface in Klein's playing and composing, note "The End" and "Desert Song" respectively). At times Cohen Milo's bass takes on the quality of a deep-voiced oud. That modal resonance, with its ringing tonal centers, emphasizes both the camaraderie and shared music heritage of the musicians, resulting in lyrical, reflective work.
Michel Petrucciani and bassist Ron McClure are very well-matched on Cold Blues, a 1985 reissued recording that mixes originals and standards. There's plenty of rhapsodic harmonic exploration on ballads like Petrucciani's "Beautiful but Why?" and McClure's "Something Like This," with the bassist's memorable etching of the melody. On "I Just Say Hello," another Petrucciani ballad, the piano has a glittering, bell-like clarity, the expansive line surrounding the warm-toned bass that underpins it. In contrast, there's extraordinary drive in Petrucciani's take on "There Will Never Be Another You," delivered with such verve that one might imagine a drummer present. Petrucciani's playing was always remarkable for its sudden shifts in direction and texture and McClure's close listening and fast hands provide a fine complement.
Remembering Mal also dates from 1985, though it's previously unreleased. A live recording complete with thin, hard sound, some crowd noise (it was recorded at the Hyatt on Sunset in Los Angeles) and bassist David Friesen's occasionally distracting vocalizing, all of that disappears before Mal Waldron's singular focus, even becoming part of the music's somber and turbulent emotions. In the early years of his career Waldron worked with Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy and he operates on the same emotional scale. On the 11-minute version of his "Fire Waltz," he tests and retests a series of phrases, repeating them against his lapping ostinato chording until their insistence is hypnotic, drawing the listener into a pool of blues-drenched sound. Polyrhythmic compounding even marks his treatment of usually buoyant standards like "With a Song in My Heart" or "Someday My Prince Will Come," while his stylistic connection to Monk is emphasized in the repertoire, with both "'Round Midnight" and "I Mean You" (inexplicably retitled "You Mean Me") included. Unlike the other pairings, here it's Friesen who's the more fluid player, but it's Waldron who gives it its special gravity.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Introduction; The Ravens; Song #1; Stav; Highschool Song; Dvash; Desert Song; The End.
Personnel: Omer Klein: piano; Haggai Cohen Milo: bass.
Tracks: Beautiful But Why?; Autumn Leaves; Something Like This; There Will Never Be Another You; I Just Say Hello!; Cold Blues.
Personnel: Michel Petrucciani: piano; Ron McClure: bass.
Tracks: If I were a Bell; Fire Waltz; 'Round Midnight; With a Song in my Heart; You Mean Me; Someday My Prince Will Come; All God's Chillun Got Rhythm.
Personnel: David Friesen: bass; Mal Waldron: piano.