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Steve Blanco / Jeremy Wilms: Semblance

Budd Kopman By

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Semblance, from the duo of pianist Steve Blanco and guitarist Jeremy Wilms, is an intriguing, multifaceted and ambitious work. Of the fourteen tracks, fully half are improvised, demonstrating lightning-sharp musical reflexes. Blanco and Wilms share the compositional credits on six tracks, with the remaining track being Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On."

In any duo, regardless of instrumentation, the interaction between the players is especially critical to the success of the music. There is literally no place to hide from the other player or from oneself. While it is true that a duo with a piano has a bit more room to maneuver, any weakness or hesitation is still easily heard.

One of the most famous piano/guitar duos was that of Bill Evans and Jim Hall, whose remarkable album Undercurrent (Blue Note, 1962) is still to this day ranked as one of the most outstanding recordings ever. Each man had an immediately identifiable style and attitude based on elliptical rather than direct musical statements which blended perfectly.

Blanco acknowledges Evans' influence, but says that any reference in Semblance to the earlier duo was "subconsciously purposeful." For his part, Wilms, who plays in many different styles, at times not only sounds like Hall, but also gets inside his style. Neither man slavishly copies the Evans/Hall approach, and the allusion to it, while strong—as demonstrated in the broken octaves at the end of "Elemental"—mark the beginning of their personal expressiveness, rather than the end.

This effort, however, goes way beyond an attempt to recreate Undercurrent or even extend upon it, and it is in the improvisations that Blanco and Wilms really let go and explore wider musical territory. The pieces draw from many musical styles, including both modern and romantic classical, pop and rock, and techniques such as electronics and prepared piano. Dissonance and controlled chaos evolve into sections of beauty and mystery, with a logic that sounds both spontaneous and preformed. Each piece has its own identity and its own logic.

The Marvin Gaye track can hardly be called a cover. If one did not know the title, it would be easy to miss the oblique references to the themes of this culturally iconic tune. However, knowing the title perks up the ears and the mind as they struggle to make the connection to the original song.

Blanco's Contact (Self Published, 2006) was a very hot and concentrated trio effort. With Semblance he shows, with his able partner Wilms, another side of his musicianship. The music is well worth the effort needed for its exploration as it stretches the boundaries of the piano/guitar duo.

Visit Steve Blanco and Jeremy Wilms on the web.

Track Listing: Elemental; Gradus; Next Victim; Semblance; J Tree; Spinning Vortex; Woongsock; Metropolis; What's Goin' On; Staring At The Cracks; Goosefat & Butter; Theme For Now; Waltz For The Beginning Of The End Of Time; Entitled.

Personnel: Steve Blanco: piano; Jeremy Wilms: guitars.

Title: Semblance | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Insomnia Creations

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