The pairing of clarinetist-guitarist Alex Ward and drummer Andrew Lisle dates back at least to 2014 when the pair recorded the album Red Kite (Raw Tonk, 2014) in a trio with saxophonist Colin Webster. As Ward is kept busy as a member of quite a few other groupings of various sizes, it is no surprise that Doors is their first duo release. Recorded on two separate days in August and September 2016, the album consists of four tracks of similar durations, ranging from sixteen-and-a-half to eighteen minutes. Rather unusually for Ward, two of the tracks feature him on clarinet and on the other tworecorded on a different dayhe plays electric guitar. (The only comparable instance of this is on the download-only album Bring a Book that Ward recorded at Café Oto Project Space with Canadian drummer Mike Gennaro, also in September 2016, a week after the guitar tracks featured here.)
Rather than blocking together tracks featuring the same instrument, Doors alternates them, so emphasising the contrasts between Ward's clarinet and guitar playing. These contrasts are far more to do with the differences between the two instruments themselves than Ward having a Dr Jekyll personality! In each case he explores the limits of the instrument which takes him to very different places sonically. The first guitar piece, "Back," exemplifies this as it starts off very laid-back then accelerates as Ward elaborates and explores phrases. The second clarinet piece, "Open," follows a similar route from a smooth, mellow opening to a barnstorming climax. Each of the two makes the transition feel natural and unforced, without any clunky gear changes or jump cuts.
Thanks to Lisle, just as noteworthy are the contrasts between these duets and Ward's solo recordings; while keeping an ear on the music's pulse, the drummer operates as an equal partner with Ward, exchanging phrases, supporting and goading when necessary without hogging the limelight. The end product is music that is full of character and variety; from one track to the next, it is impossible to predict what one will hear, but it is certain it will be highly listenable and engaging. This duo has a bright future.
Front; Back; Open; Closed.
Alex Ward: clarinet (1, 3), guitar (2, 4); Andrew Lisle: drums.