While Frank Carlberg certainly rises to great heights in large-group settings, some of the pianist's most absorbing and thought-provoking work has been built around the intimacy of the duo. Whether we're talking about intrigue-laced meetings with fellow Finn (and drumming great) Klaus Suonsaari, a ballad set featuring tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, some two-piano play with Ran Blake or a delightfully open dalliance with vocalist Christine Correa, the nature of pairings typically proves fruitful for Carlberg. Charity and Love, bringing him into close contact with forward-thinking electronic music composer Gabriel Bolaños, is no exception.
Taking inspiration from the great Mary Lou Williams without ever resorting to imitative tribute, Carlberg's piano and Bolaños' laptop and electronic effects paint around the spirit of an artist of inestimable intelligence, power and imagination. Mirroring those attributes, these two men create something that lives up to her forwarding of charity and love. Opening on the lengthy title track, Bolaños brings fragmented electro-chatter to the surface and Carlberg calculates melodies from great angles. Eventually the talk coalesces, as a looping, overlapped sample of Williams' voice incanting the title phrase becomes clearer, leading the piano to lock into that speech. It's a piece that rewards patience with a serious payoff.
A number of other tracks in the mix contain cells and shards of material from Williams' celebrated Zodiac Suite, but none deal in mimicry. "Mary Lou, Mary Blue," declarative in its eerie flow, proves wonderfully inscrutable. "Zodiac Impressions," subscribing to paranoia, dressing in drab colors and closing with crystalized upper-register piano, is as curious as it is foreboding. And "Mary's Aries," capturing a mood far more bleak and icy than the boisterous romp that Williams plays to that ram's sign, seems to owe as much to astrology as it is does astronomic anomalies.
Elsewhere, Carlberg delivers a dainty dynamic dance built over a quirky, see-sawing left hand on "Broken Stomp"; Bolaños brings Williams' voice back into play, dissecting it and pulling it into the void of space (before closing with clarity) on "Soul and Jazz"; and the duo investigates circling sway with warped edges during the "Waving Goodbye" sendoff. These two are seriously tuned in to each other, the art of discovery and the core qualities that made Mary Lou Williams so special. Carlberg and Bolaños use risk to garner reward through this engrossing music.
Charity and Love; Mary Lou, Mary Blue; Zodiac Impressions; Ancient Winds; Mary's Aries; Broken Stomp; Big Sky, Dark
Clouds; Soul and Jazz; Hop, Skip, Jump; Water Under the Bridge; Waving Goodbye.