Perhaps no wind instrument can be as expressive as the human voice besides the trombone and clarinet. The litmus test, so to speak, might be to cast either instrument in a silent movie and then to watch the film as the instruments imitate the lives whose stories they tell. Of course the instruments must be played exceptionally wellperhaps trombonist Roswell Rudd
and clarinetist Barney Bigard
, in days gone by or, if the film were being made today, clarinetist Don Byron
or Eddie Daniels. How about adding a piano and having Roger Kellaway
sit in? That would be a miraculous film and a life worth living. As a matter of fact, this did happen on February 25, 2011 and now there is a record to prove it. Live at the Library of Congress
is the title of what surely must have been one of the most memorable evenings at that august venue.
Daniels is one of the most celebrated modern artists on the clarinet, and along with Don Byron, he has, in fact come to redefine its scope and broadened the timbres of the instrument: Daniels, by extending the upper register, and Byron, by making it sound more like a human voice with the occasional growl and smear in the lower register. Daniels is also one of the great virtuoso players and can play in any idiom, including classical, Latin and jazz. He has dramatic expression and his intonation is bright and curvy, bringing out the woody nature of the instrument with polished tones in a myriad hues. His lines are lilting and he plays in triplets, dazzling runs, and arpeggios. His spectral playing inhabits another world of sound, as if he were sculpting a figure in four dimensions. But here he would use a French curve instead of a set square.
Kellaway and Daniels are soul mates who made the now-classic Memos from Paradise
(GRP, 1988). Kellaway is a jazz musician who can elicit as much of an array of emotions as pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy does when playing Frederic Chopin. Kellaway speaks directly to the human soul; he does not "play" the notes on the piano, but caresses them lovingly, making them laugh and cry. His fingers brush them and they jump for joy, or weep with despair. He could just as easily join Daniels to create that moving picture of life, which is exactly what they do on this album.
How else would the two men bring a woman to life on "Etude of a Woman" and "Pretty Women"? Who else besides Daniels and Kellaway could conjure the reflection of light dancing on an edifice and the objet d'art
within it as they do on "Capriccio Twilight," on this, the most stately album this year?