Nothing against piano trios or drummers, but eliminating the latter can result in a far more elegant and interesting musical conversation. Part of the reason may be that in this trimmed-down setting the bass is freed up to be the piano's equal partner. Two instrumentalists allow for subtleties of tone and coloration to shine through. These two releases, both straight-ahead yet very different in feel, are wonderful examples of this approach. Bassist Harvie S and pianist Kenny Barron have engaging conversations on Now Was The Time while pianist Ron Thomas and bassist Paul Klinefelter come together as one for extended explorations with Blues for Zarathustra.
The jazz ethos of spontaneous conversational improvisation is much in evidence on this recently uncovered 1986 meeting between S and Barron in both song choice and flexible give and take. These are standards that by their very nature promote improvisation on the changes. It is fitting that Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" serves as the CD opener and introduces each musician to one another in an up-tempo bop setting. Barron and S are both masters of this craft and their individual playing stylesBarron with his compact rhythmic approach that emphasizes swing and S who is a very melodic bassistallow this duo to cruise pleasantly along with amicable repartee through tunes like "Isn't it Romantic" and "All or Nothing at All". Wayne Shorter's "Miyako" serves as a touching ballad with beautiful enunciation while the only original, S' "Take Your Time," has quite a memorable melodic line. The bassist excels with his inventive solo interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" to end the session.
While S and Barron converse, Thomas and Klinefelter meld for an experience that envelops the listener. Thomas has had a unique career that includes studies with groundbreaking composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Cage was fond of quoting the Zen saying, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four minutes. If it's still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two and so on. Eventually one discovers it's not boring at all." Thomas, whose style here is beautifully organic and reminiscent of pianist Bill Evans, has certainly heeded Cage's advice. It is very apparent that he and his bassist partner have explored this program of well-known tunes in a way that has allowed them to break through their melodic wall. The result is nothing short of brilliant. Evans' own "Time Remembered" is a lovely pastiche, Luiz Bonfa's "Gentle Rain" engages in ways it never has and Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" is likewise fresh and enticing. Klinefelter uses the full range of his bass and as such is an integral part of the sound. The CD closer and title cut is an elegant bluesy hand-in-hand walk that begs for more and ends one of the nicest surprise releases of last year.
Tracks and Personnel
Now Was the Time
Tracks: Confirmation; All or Nothing At All; Body And Soul; Take Your Time; Darn That Dream; Miyako; Isn't It Romantic?; Chelsea Bridge.
Personnel: Harvie S: bass; Kenny Barron: piano.
Blues for Zarathustra
Tracks: Gentle Rain; Time Remembered; Yardbird Suite; You Must Believe in Spring; Young and Foolish; I Thought About You; Blues for Zarathustra.
Personnel: Ron Thomas: piano; Paul Klinefelter: bass.
I love jazz because it swings.
I was first exposed to jazz in Houston.
I met Joe LoCascio and Bob Henschen.
The best show I ever attended was Pat Martino.
The first jazz record I bought was Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
My advice to new listeners is to relax on 2 and 4 beats.