In 2019, tenor & soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
began for Intakt Records a series of duo recordings with leading pianists . The first two instalments paired her with Aki Takase
) and Kris Davis
), both sensible choices as Takase and Davis have long been fixtures in avant-garde jazz, traveling in the same circles as Laubrock and with similar stylistic proclivities. This makes the third offering, with Andy Milne
, a bit more interesting. Milne is certainly unafraid of adventure, having traversed a wide spectrum of contemporary jazz and pop, collaborating with everyone from Tyshawn Sorey
to Bruce Cockburn along the way; his genre-defying Dapp Theory band's Seasons of Being
(Sunnyside, 2018) is just one example of his maverick sensibility. But his overall aesthetic leans in a listener-friendly direction, whereas Laubrock typically ventures into less inviting terrain. What they have in common, however, is crucial -a generosity in approach that privileges close listening and empathetic collaboration, enabling the two to create music which harnesses each player's strengths in compelling, and sometimes surprising, ways.
As all ten compositions are Laubrock's, one might at first assume that Milne is a secondary figure here. But that notion is quickly dispelled right from the outset, as the pianist's lovely rubato opening to "Equanimity" lays the foundation for Laubrock's hauntingly beautiful tenor saxophone, allowing the musicians the chance to explore the piece's contours with sensitivity and nuance. Milne's patient restraint and emotional depth bring out Laubrock's lyrical side, softening the edges of her playing and allowing her lighter hues to emerge more vividly. The title track is another example of Milne's leavening effect on Laubrock, with a warmth in his delivery which sparkles alongside Laubrock's lambent phrases.
The influence runs the other way as well, however, with Laubrock occasionally pushing Milne into more abstract territory. "Fragment" and "Splinter" are studies in texture, with Laubrock's extended soprano saxophone technique in close conversation with Milne's prepared piano, and the pieces only gradually taking on fixed dimensions with ostinato phrases generating rhythmic energy. "Bolder Fall Ejecta" may be the best example of the two catalyzing one another, as Laubrock's feisty soprano sax flights invigorate Milne, whose percussive intensity reaches impressive heights in some dazzling runs across the keyboard. Milne's angularity also animates "Ants in My Brain," expertly opening up the theme for Laubrock to investigate with another stunning soprano turn. And "Unapologetically Yours" has a wildness which almost sounds freely improvised, as Milne shows he can certainly keep up with Laubrock's more "out"-leaning moments.
While Laubrock excels in every format from solo performance to large ensemble, there is something about the duo setting which seems to cultivate much of her best work, and Fragile
is no exception. It should be a highlight in Milne's impressive catalog as well.
Equanimity; Fragment; Bolder Fall Ejecta; Fragile; Shard; Ants in My Brain; Unapologetically Yours; Illusion of Character;