Sometimes you have to follow your heart. After a quarter of a century in the US, during which time he co-founded the seminal fusion group The Fourth Way and released a series of superb albums including In Out and Around
(Timeless, 1978) and Ondas
(ECM, 1981), pianist Mike Nock returned to Australia, where he's lived since 1985. There he has continued to lead an active musical life as a composer, performer and educator. New Zealander Frank Gibson is not as well known, though the drummer has recorded and/or performed with artists including jazz pianist Alan Broadbent and progressive rocker Rick Wakeman.
While Open Door went virtually unnoticed by the international jazz community when it was first released in 1987, the internet's reach and the duet album's first CD release means that it can finally be heard by a broader audience. Open Door won New Zealand's award for Jazz Album of the Year back in the day, and while that may seem like a case of a big fish in a small pond, the fact is that not only did it deserve the accolades it received when first released, but it also stands up remarkably well twenty years later, continuing to demonstrate why Nock is one of jazz's best kept secrets.
The program consists of three Nock originals, a rubato take on "Danny Boy and four free improvisations that feel, for the most part, anything but. Just as Keith Jarrett's solo improvisations often demonstrate such an innate sense of purpose that they feel composed despite their impromptu nature, so do these collaborations. "Yin Yang evolves from Nock's initial solo musings into a series of episodic passages that give the eight-minute piece a suite-like feeling. As much as Nock avoids the trap of giving everything away, so too does Gibson play with open ears and an approach that allows the listener to fill in the blanks.
The title track is more abstract. Nock and Gibson move from a more jaggedly assertive stance to a more ethereal middle section, with Nock shifting between delicate high notes, gut-level low notes and a minimalist-like pattern that's made staccato by Nock dampening the strings of the piano with his hand, before returning to a more extroverted ending. "Phaedra's Wall recalls the occasional gospel leanings of Jarrett's European Quartet but, like Jarrett, Nock subtly staggers the time, an approach Gibson emphatically supports.
Nock's joyful "Harriet Street could almost be a rock instrumental, while "Mossaflo is a gentler ballad that, harmonically, is the closest thing to conventional jazz on the disc. Gibson propels it along with a light samba feel.
Distinguishing the free improvisations from the compositions on this recording is almost an exercise in futility. The fact that this piano and drums duo can feel so completely whole is what make Open Door such a unique and satisfying listen. Open-ended without ever becoming unfocused, it's one more reason why Nock's nameand Gibson's, as welldeserve to be better known, and more of the pianist's out-of-print discography ought to see reissue.
Visit Mike Nock on the web.