Equally distinctive as they are, the respective instrumental styles of pianist Fred Hersch
and clarinetist Anat Cohen
are almost mirror images of each other. That is, the former is generally a formal, dignified presence on his instrument, yet he has a readily discernible playful side that comes out at regular intervals. The latter, on the other hand, displays an innate gaiety in most of her horn work, but also reveals a darker, more contemplative nature that contrasts with her prevailing tone. As a result, Live in Healdsburg
becomes a strikingly complementary collaboration as the two gifted players and composers mix of originals with compositions by the likes of Duke Ellington
("Mood Indigo") and Fats Waller
This is, however, a live recording of Cohen and Hersch that, for all intents and purposes, was never meant to be. As the Israeli composer and horn-player tells it, engineer Steve Moon inquired about setting up microphones after the pair completed their soundcheck for the imminent performance, to which both acceded. It was months later that Fred Hersch contacted Anat Cohen, emphatically encouraging her to give a listen to the recording. In so doing, the revelation she experienced at the quality of sound and performance turned out to be one worth sharing with the general public.
The casual informality of the setting belies the intensity of the performance. Comprised of seven selections, the set proceeds as if one sustained moment of dual inspiration as Hersch's "A Lark" sets the tone in mood and title, after which Cohen's "The Purple Piece" injects an intense air befitting its title. Without an extravagant conceptual air, these two musicians nevertheless create a density of interplay that is fully in line with their innate abilities and their practiced discipline.
As on both of those numbers, the pianist and clarinetist intuitively anticipate the other's moves throughout and, in so doing they reveal the nuances of the tunes as well as their individual instrumental styles. In listening to Live in Healdsburg
, singling out one or the other musician isn't wholly a liability, but on Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," in particular, such focus allows for, then nurtures, a more involved appreciation of how Hersch and Cohen play, separately and as a duo. The concept of a twosome further belies the deceptive complexity within the performance.
With only two tracks here, including "Lee's Dream," clocking in shorter than the seven-to-ten minute plus mark, Cohen and Hersch take an intensive approach to each tune and by extension to the overall sixty minutes. The succession of songs and the pair's sensitive approach to the subtleties of each one generates a flow of interactions that alternately provokes and calms. The very textures of the instruments, in fact, become a physical manifestation of those two states of mind as the gentle but firm, percussive piano becomes an ideal foil for the precise but vigorous tones of the clarinet.
It's a fortunate happenstance indeed for listeners other than the audience on this early summer night in 2016 to witness the elevated level of invention these two musicians share during Live in Healdsburg