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Multi-reedist Lucien Dubuis and keyboardist Christophe Studer have been active forces on the jazz scene in their native Switzerland since the late '90s. Of the two young players, both in their early thirties, Dubuis is perhaps the better known, having worked with top Swiss improvisers Hans Koch and Martin Schutz and, most recently, New York guitar god Marc Ribot. But Studer's reputation as a man to watch is also mounting, thanks to his tenure as pianist with the vaunted Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra and the well-received solo ballads album he released this year. Both musicians have also been frequent performers at Montreux and other high-profile festivals during the past few years.
Madame Chili is a fairly engaging outing of duets that the pair had evidently been planning for quite some time. Dubuis plays contrabass and bass clarinets and Studer is on piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, and synthesizer. The set allows little room for coasting as the conversation flows unabated for nearly eighty minutes.
Studer's splayed, spiky piano chords on tunes like "Départ Au Zoo and "Megabionicrobot show how well he's internalized Monk and Bud Powell. And one can't help but think of Chick Corea's stint with electric-period Miles Davis on the Rhodes-soaked "Les Gros Pouce, though the dynamic initiated by Dubuis' throaty honks is far tetchier than that created by Miles' smooth, probing arcs.
While Madame Chili has many other golden momentsthe fractured soul vamp of "Ã‡a Blues?," the haunted roller rink organ of "Amélie Moutarde," the reverberating, distorted Rhodes of "Noukette the field often feels uneven. While Studer's sympathetic comping and excellent use of space do give the record an expansive atmosphere, Dubuis doesn't seem to know when to lay off, letting torrents fly arbitrarily when Studer is clearly in a more introspective mode.
Yet the duo does lock in and end up on the same page frequently enough to produce some excellent results. "Sans les Ongles Ou Alors Coupe'les! is a tension-pregnant storm cloud of rising synth and organ waves, made all the more foreboding by the simmering sub-bass squawks Dubuis stacks in his corner in a cold-hearted manner. Almost cruelly, the piece never reaches critical mass, going out the way it came in: with a slow fade.
There's definitely enough great music here to recommend an investigation, but truthfully the artists could have lopped off about twenty minutes and made this a much stronger release. A couple of the pieces go on a minute or so after the ideas have run out, and Dubuis' unfettered approach can be exhausting. Still, it's good stuffjust don't consume it all in one sitting.