After four decades of small ensemble recordings, veteran Czech jazz pianist Emil Viklický is developing a taste for duo albums. Following the fine duo outings Together Again
(ACT Music, 2014) with George Mraz
, and Moravian Romance: Live at Jazzfest Brno 2018
(Venus, 2018) with Miroslav Vitous
, Viklický partners with reed player Pavel Hrubý, here on bass clarinet, to deliver a dozen intimate dialogues which draw as much from blues, classical and Eastern European folk traditions as they do from jazz.
All but one of the compositions are originals, though the five Viklický tunes have all appeared on previous releases, notably Sinfonietta: The Janáček of Jazz
(Venus 2009). Still, the fairly unusual pairing of piano and bass clarinetat least in jazz termsenables a fresh perspective. Hrubý, who employs the full range of the bass clarinet's sonic palette, contributes three self-penned pieces, while four co-written endeavors veer between serene meditation and looser, improvisatory terrain.
There is tension embedded within the pervading melancholy of "Forlorn Peach Tree," with Hrubý commanding the melodic lines while Viklický maintains a repetitive rhythmic pulse which flickers sharply in intensity. The pianist's intuitive counterpoint and deft melodic embellishments accent the emotional contours of Hrubý's flowalternatively purring and growlingand, although he plays second fiddle to the clarinetist for much of the album, Viklický serves up a masterclass in the art of accompaniment.
Viklický 's booming left-hand surges darkly through the title track, where Hrubý's urgent motif rings like a call to arms. Both take fine solos, with the clarinetist sitting out for Viklický 's rhythmically charged improvisation. Throughout Between Us
Viklický solos unaccompanied, which infuses the music with a heightened sense of space. The duo is just as compelling at slower tempi, as on the chamber-esque "Enigmatic Poem," the brooding "Cool with Emotions," whose simmering tensions stubbornly resist boiling over, and the gently lyrical "Timelessness" all controlled mood pieces.
Both musicians take extended solos on the elegant "Not Yet" and, arresting though these excursions are, greater excitement inhabits their jousting on the funky "Exaggerated Message," where burrowing unison riffs give way to playful cat-and-mouse probing, where the one's phrasing closely mirrors the other's.
Subtle strains of European folk melodies and classical music are common threads on these duets, with Hrubý's fluid, free-spirited playing on "Sweet Basil" conjuring Klezmer fantazi,
while Viklický not for nothing known as the Janáček of jazzdisplays Moravian folkloric tonalities in his more lyrical passages.
American vernacular is to the fore on the blues-drenched "Fanoshu," with first Viklický and then Hrubý building seductively. Viklický goes to church on "I Can't Stop Loving You," though the aching, gospel blues he channels owes more to Ray Charles
's version than to the country vibe of composer Don Gibson's original version. Hrubý draws a tender, soprano-esque quality from his bass clarinet on "Overflown Bird," a pretty, Gershwin-esque blues which closes this consistently persuasive encounter on a deliciously melancholy note.
The warm, pristine sound-quality of this recording is an undeniably important element in the chemistry, perfectly capturing the nuances at play between two highly attuned musicians. Worthy of an encore.
Forlorn Peach Tree; Between Us; Enigmatic Poem; Not Yet; Cool with Emotions; I Can’t Stop Loving You; Timelessness; Sweet Basil; Looking Back; Exaggerated Message; Fanoshu; Overflown Bird.