Saxophone and drum duos aren't as rare as some might believe, but a good percentage of such encounters are challenging, left-leaning affairs. John Coltrane
's edgy encounters with Rashied Ali
on Interstellar Space
(Impulse!, 1974) emboldened many in the so-called avant-garde to marry these instruments time and again over the ensuing decades, yet few centrists seem as interested or willing to explore that territory. That's why a recording such as this, featuring man-for-all-seasons saxophonist Steve Wilson
and paragon-of-class drummer Lewis Nash
, is so special.
Nash, an occasional leader and first-call side man who's worked with everybody from vocalist Betty Carter
to saxophonist Jimmy Heath
to pianist Tommy Flanagan
, and Wilson, a versatile saxophonist who's spent time working with drummer Ralph Peterson
, pianist Chick Corea
, bassist Christian McBride
, and a good number of other greats, make for a perfect pair. They've been working together as a duo on-and-off since 2001, but Duologue
marks the first time that one of their encounters has been captured for posterity.
The occasional number on this album finds this pair pushing outside the borders of expectations ("Black Gold"), but the majority of the music is in the wheelhouse(s) of both of these artists. Neither man radically alters his modus operandi to suit the setting, but the skill sets and strengths of both men, normally blended within a band setting, are now thrown into sharp relief. Nash's swinging brilliance, quick reflexes, and melodic bent are all plainly evident here, as are Wilson's lyrical side, playfulness, and rhythmic approach to conversation.
While a few Wilson originals show up on the playlist, the duologue carried on between these two is mostly centered on familiar material. They never obscure the melodic content of the music or toy too much with the qualities that have made these standards so popular, but the very nature of the circumstance they find themselves in leads them to broaden the scope of each piece. A sly and sexy take on "The Mooche" that opens on a brief saxophone fantasia and contains Nash's too-infrequent, smile-inducing pitch bends is one such example. Wilson's lyrical daydreaming on the "Bright Mississippi" portion of "Monk Medley Part 2," which leads to Nash's short cymbal-ic introduction to an energetic and rhythmically clipped take on "Four In One," is another.
There's much to admire here when this pair rides high through Ornette Coleman
territory ("Happy House") or pleasantly travels through Fats Waller
's world ("Jitterbug Waltz"), but it's also instructional to observe what these men do when they're left to their own devices. Plenty of solo opportunities arise throughout, and each man gets to step out on his own. Wilson delights with the short "Row Twelve," opening in searching fashion and allowing things to congeal into a more direct form of expression, and Nash completely owns Eddie Harris
' "Freedom Jazz Dance," bringing melodic and rhythmic brilliance to the fore all at once.
, Wilson and Nash make the combination of saxophone and drums seem as logical and complementary as anything. It's a treat to hear them work their magic.