Guitarist Michael Musillami
and pianist Peter Madsen
have long traveled in the same circles, with Musillami's Playscape label showcasing both musicians in a number of their independently derived projects. But they don't often get to work side-by-side. Aside from Musillami's sextet record, Dachau
(Playscape, 2006), the two have only appeared together previously on duo disc, Part Pitbull
(Playscape, 2002). Their scintillating renewed partnership on Pictures
shows the intervening years have done nothing to diminish their intuitive chemistry and first-rate technical facility.
Both musicians thrive in larger contexts: witness Musillami's excellent quintet disc Life Anthem
(Playscape, 2018) or Madsen's octet on Never Bet the Devil Your Head
(Playscape, 2018). But as Musillami explains in the liner notes, the two have a shared fondness for the "immediacy and quick reaction time one can experience in a duo setting," and Pictures
is certainly proof of that. Inspired loosely by Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition
, the album is essentially a set of nine tributes to musical figures whose influence has shaped the pianist and guitarist, and in between each is a short "promenade" that fosters continuing dialogue while also serving to smooth the transitions between tributes. With piano giants ranging from Cecil Taylor
, Carla Bley
and Randy Weston
and guitar legends running the gamut through Jim Hall
, John Abercrombie
and Joe Diorio
, the stylistic variety is extensive and those brief interludes to cleanse the palate, so to speak, are beneficial.
Projects of this nature can easily devolve into repertory exercises, but as was evident on Dig
(Playscape, 2019), Musillami's Bill Evans
tribute with bassist Rich Syracuse
, the guitarist possesses far too much creativity to fall into slavish imitation. Nor does Madsen have any intention of simply reproducing the pianists honored here: while "Cecil Taylor" has a few Taylor-esque flourishes, and "Thelonious Monk" possesses a characteristically jaunty off-kilter vibe, there's nothing derivative about these pieces. Each does just enough to remind us of their inspiration, while providing moments for improvisation that are consistently inventive and expertly realized.
Moreover, one of the hallmarks of the recording is that some of each musician's standout moments occur when their "opposite" instrumentalist is being feted. Musillami's astonishingly fleet runs on "Cecil Taylor" are a case in point, as are Madsen's pace-setting bursts on "John Abercrombie." One senses the genuine debt felt by both musicians to all of these musical heroes, a debt that is repaid not with pastiche but with their ability to find their own personal resources from which to build on their legacy.
To hear two masters at work in this setting is a delight. One hopes we won't have to wait quite so long before they team up again.
Promenade One; Cecil Taylor; Promenade Two; Robert Paris; Promenade Three; Carla Bley; Promenade Four; John Abercrombie; Promenade Five; Thelonious Monk; Promenade Six; Joe Diorio; Promenade Seven; Dave Brubeck; Promenade Eight; Jim Hall; Promenade Nine; Randy Weston; Promenade Ten.