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Ron Thomas / Paul Klinefelter: Duo

Budd Kopman By

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One of the wonderful things about jazz is that it can be appreciated from more than one angle, oftentimes simultaneously: pure entertainment, art as entertainment, art as beauty and art as intellect among others. Some of this, of course, relates to music in general, but jazz as a genre has moved beyond any stylistic boundaries to the point where no one can claim any particular sub-genre to represent "jazz."

This push-pull aspect of jazz allows a player to do what he (or she) wants, and really it is the players themselves who define jazz. However, there is still a strong tradition of improvising on a "standard," that is, a tune which, because of its unique structure, has become part of the jazz canon. Indeed, many players who otherwise compose and/or perform in some aspect of the "avant-garde" relish the opportunity to perform standards in a club setting, taking the inherent limitations and boundaries imposed by the tune as a challenge (see Ballads and Standards by Marc Mommaas and Nikolaj Hess).

Duo by pianist Ron Thomas and bassist Paul Klinefelter is a superb example of this "back to the future" approach by creative jazz musicians. Klinefelter, who produced the recording wanted the conditions to be as close to a gig as possible, so it was just the two of them in the same room, playing tunes picked by Thomas, usually in one take. That said, the sound is superb and both instruments come alive, with the bass being as clear and sharp as the piano.

Knowing each other since 1980, Thomas and Klinefelter play as one mind, investigating in depth old and new standards. Since most are romantic ballads, the overall vibe is one of lush, introspective intensity, as befitting players who are very comfortable mixing the intellectual with the romantic.

Thomas is a master of the pedal and it is very easy to get deliciously lost in his inside voicings and contrapuntal melodic lines —he does not hide his deep connection to Bill Evans.

The first tune recorded, "Young And Foolish" is also the longest at over eleven minutes, and could easily be regarded as the musical and emotional peak of the album (see here for a version by Evans from Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside, 1958). Time virtually stops as ideas seamlessly flow from Thomas, and are answered by some of the best melodic bass playing you will ever hear; simply outstanding.

The album ends nicely with a more modern classic, "Invitation" by Bronislaw Kaper and Paul Francis Webster (see here for a version by Ahmad Jamal).

There are many ways to enjoy Duo —simply revel in its lush beauty, marvel at the close interplay of Thomas and Klinefelter or observe the deep intellectual musicianship of the moment-to-moment proceedings (and possibly recognize the injected quotes of other tunes).

Any way you want to look at it, Thomas and Klinefelter have much to say about these familiar favorites, making this music-making of the highest order.

Track Listing: Black Orpheus; Young and Foolish; Stella By Starlight; Here’s that Rainy Day; My Foolish Heart; Once I Loved; F Minor; Invitation.

Personnel: Ron Thomas, piano; Paul Klinefelter, bass.

Title: Duo | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Vectordisc Records

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