In recent years Marc Copland has been honing an introspective approach to the piano that's as heavy on substance as it is on style. But with the exception of his ongoing trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jochen Ruchert, he's concentrated on solo work, duets and an unconventional trio with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and guitarist John Abercrombie. As a result, this recording, where he shares top billing with veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker, comes as something of a surprise. Copland's approach to harmony is as distinctive and abstract as ever, but in the company of Brecker, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Victor Lewistwo frequent collaborators with great chemistryhe delivers his most swinging set in years.
Randy Brecker remains one of the busiest and most versatile horn players in and out of jazz. Trumpeters like Dave Douglas receive so much press these days, well-deserved though it may be, that it's easy to forget the breadth of Brecker's reach. Equally comfortable with funk, fusion and mainstream jazz, Brecker has not allowed his ability to navigate any context to dilute his singular voice, which can exploit the entire range of his instrument, but avoids the brashness of players who always go for the high notes. His own discography as a leader may be inconsistent, but Both/And is his best record in years.
There's an odd tension about Both/And, largely due to Copland's unorthodox way of reharmonizing even the most conventional material. Lee Morgan's classic "The Sidewinder" is as soulful, funky and swinging as ever, thanks to Howard and Lewis' simpatico support. But the familiar theme is broken up, and Copland's accompaniment helps take the song places Morgan could not have imagined. And while he alludes to a more orthodox approach on the disc's only standardan elegant take on Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy"Copland straddles the fine line between playing it straight and turning it on its side. Brecker's tone is so warm throughout that one might be misled into thinking he's playing a flugelhorn.
The rest of Both/And consists of originalsfive Copland tunes and a mid-tempo modal workout by Brecker, "Over the Hills," where he proves that he's still one of the best post-bop trumpeters of any generation. Copland's closer, the gently swinging "Bookends," first recorded on his 2003 duet album of the same name with saxophonist Dave Liebman, proves that sometimes context is everything. And while the theme of "Through the Window" may speak the language of bop, Copland's distinctive lyricism keeps it the slightest bit off-kilter.
One sign of masterful artistry is the ability to take a conventional context and skew it, remaining accessible while challenging the listener to travel to unexpected places. That very characteristic is what elevates Both/And beyond the contemporary mainstream.