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Saxophone and Piano Duets: A Feeling For Someone and Du Fugl

John Sharpe By

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Jürg Wickihalder
A Feeling For Someone
Intakt
2008


Henriette Groth/ Lotte Anker
Du Fugl
ILK
2008


Piano and saxophone duets are jazz distilled to its bare essentials: one linear melodic voice interacting with a chordal and rhythmic partner, also capable of leading the line. What these two European dates—one Swiss and the other Danish—emphasize is the wide territory this instrumental gambit can encompass in the right hands.

Zurich, Switzerland-based soprano saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder's A Feeling for Someone pairs him with compatriot pianist Chris Wiesendanger for a program of eight original compositions. Each of the attractively lyrical pieces, falling within the 6-8 minute range and often teetering on the verge of familiarity, has some association for Wickihalder to a musician who has been important to him, including Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington among others. Not that the performances, which evoke a soundtrack to some wistful Middle European art film, directly echo their respective inspirations; as Wickihalder says in the liners, it is more of a feeling for someone.

Though soprano saxophone master Steve Lacy was Wickihalder's most important mentor, the Berklee-educated Swiss has moved towards his own voice, keeping his formidable chops in reserve on these melodic expositions, with only the briefest squeals, blurts and avant tags hinting at what else he can do on the instrument. Wiesendanger builds an opulent harmonic superstructure over which the reedman unfurls his unhurried lines, with the beautiful waltz of "Lovers," the bright "The Sun," with its tumbling unison alerting the listener as to its dedicatee Charlie Parker, and the bluesy "The Coach" as some of the highlights of this engaging debut pairing.

More angular and austere are the 13 intimate improvisations from Denmark by pianist Henriette Groth and saxophonist Lotte Anker on Du Fugl. Anker is probably best known to American audiences through her work with pianist Marilyn Crispell and reedman Tim Berne, but Groth, Anker's student and for whom this is her first recording in her own name, plays a leading role here, with four short crystalline piano ruminations interspersed amongst the more expansive duets.

While the opening "Søvengænger" and closing "Hjemsøgt" hew close to the Scandinavian jazz stereotype, with pure-toned soprano hovering above sparse piano, elsewhere there is spirited interaction, as on the breakneck title track with Anker's headlong runs slamming into Groth's two-handed wall of sound, while "Rocks and Birds" posits Anker's keening soprano saxophone, always on the edge of distortion (could this be the birds?), against elemental piano rumblings (and this the rocks?). This adventurous interplay is the hallmark of close listening and two empathetic conceptions which confound genres.

Tracks and Personnel

A Feeling For Someone

Tracks: The Last Breath; Caring; Lovers; The Sun; Apology; The Coach; Ridge Dancers; Autumn Child.

Personnel: Jürg Wickihalder: soprano saxophone; Chris Wiesendanger: piano.

Du Fugl

Tracks: Søvengænger; Isblomster I; Isblomster II; Stejl; Shall we...; Rocks and Birds; Twinkle twinkle; Roll; Seraphic boogie; Mother tongue; ...Dance?; Du Fugl; Hjemsøgt.

Personnel: Henriette Groth: piano; Lotte Anker: soprano, tenor saxophones.

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