The Paul Murphy renaissance continues. Paint still wet on his own most recent session as a leader for Cadence Jazz Records ( Shadow–Intersections–West
), this new duo offering with an old partner and colleague ostensibly as leader arrives at a welcome juncture. The ties between pianist Mary Anne Driscoll and Murphy go back to the mid-1970s and the San Francisco loft jazz scene that had its higher-profile counterpart in New York City. Several self-produced recordings, of which one, Red Snapper
, was released in 2003, documented a close musical kinship. But like so many creative relationships, theirs succumbed to the entropy of time. Enter producer Bob Rusch, who financed this overdue reunion between the pair.
Taped with somewhat stilted acoustics inside Gilbert Recital Hall, CIMP's preferred off-site recording space when projects require a piano, the generous program of sixteen pieces beguiles from the scintillating cymbal rolls set up by Murphy on "Point of Reference." Many of the tracks feel like recently drawn sketches and their relative nascency adds to sensation of two souls colluding in the moment without the need of a heavily premeditated plan. Driscoll divines some truly memorable melodies, like the theme to "Elene," which evinces a dusky chamber elegance. Several solo piano pieces including the kinetically-charged "New Way" direct scrutiny even more succinctly on her dancing digits.
Driscoll's approach feels darker and more brooding than her work on Snapper, a sign that the years since that youthful outing have carried the weight of many lessons learned. A suffusive melodicism leavened with grayscale hues and textures lies at the core of her sound, but its also tempered in places with a disarmingly ebullient energy. Ruminative left hand notes, voiced in a manner similar to ECM-era Marilyn Crispell, splinter with the entrance of flurried hall-filling clusters that have more in common with '70s-style Cecil Taylor. These points of reference hint at subjective overlaps, but Driscoll's style still lies mainly outside either influence.
Murphy's sticks are their usually incisive and space-conscious selves, crafting rhythms that eddy and bob rather than crash and bombard. There's a strength and vitality to his work behind the kit that propels as effectively as it supports. From the jaunty woodpecker beats of "The Footbridge" to the cymbal cascades of "Fair Trade," he and Driscoll aren't always traveling the same path through the topiary of melodic and rhythmic underbrush, but the underlying feeling persists that they'll end up in the same place eventually and not leave the listener lost or hanging.
Piano and drum duets are nothing new. The pairing harkens back at least to the precedent-setting meetings of Shelly Manne and Russ Freeman in the '50s. And in the decades since, both Taylor and Irene Schweitzer have devoted significant portions of their folios to the pursuit. This conference between Driscoll and Murphy sits well with such prestigious company. Their musical bonds rejoined, the possibility of future collaborations lies ripe for realizing. With luck they'll be returning to the studio soon to continue the conversation.