Rarely has an album title been so perfectly descriptive. In March, 2020 the Stick Men with special guest Gary Husband had just begun a Japan and China tour. But it was cancelled by the pandemic after one show at the Blue Note in Nagoya. Thinking quickly, Husband and Stick Men touch guitarist Markus Reuter booked time in a Tokyo studio before their flights home, and recorded these spontaneous improvised duets.
Husband takes the lead, playing an especially resonant Fazioli F212 Grand Piano (also the piano of choice for jazz great Herbie Hancock). Reuter is heard on live electronics and the Touch Guitars AU8. Opener "Colour Of Sorrow" is a mournful rubato ballad which sets the tone for the set. It is centered on the piano, with a varied accompaniment from the touch guitar: sometimes sounding like a conventional guitar, sometimes electronically processed into something unrecognizable. "Across The Azure Blue" sounds like it could be played in a cathedral: reverent and spacious. It also features more active interaction, with swelling chords, pedal point and counterpoint interacting with the piano.
The title tune begins with Reuter's live electronics, which continue to swell underneath Husband's piano, like a ghostly string ensemble. "White Horses (for Allan)" is Husband's dedication to his former band-mate Allan Holdsworth. Reuter does not attempt a comparable role, instead opting for textural commentary on the piano part. "Illuminated Heart" concludes the set in a more optimistic mood. Reuter's previous album Truce (Moonjune Records, 2020) presented him as the featured soloist in a power trio, so listeners may be surprised to hear him in a primarily supportive role. However, the setting is very similar to his longtime collaboration with pianist Robert Rich.
But there is no doubt that the atmosphere here is completely in tune with the current mood. Husband and Reuter were able to play together in a room just before that became almost impossible in most parts of the world. Their improvisations are an early impression of a world where musicians can no longer perform livea major impediment for both artistic expression and earning a living. Hopefully this situation will be resolved sooner rather than later.
Colour Of Sorrow; Across The Azure Blue; Music of Our Times; A Veiled Path; White Horses (for Allan); Illuminated Heart.