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Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos

John Kelman By

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Albums putting two pianists together are rare but not unheard of. Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock did it in the '70s, and Geoffrey Keezer did it more recently with Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Mulgrew Miller and Benny Green. But such albums typically find the two pianists playing together in a context that demonstrates the paired players' differences and similarities as each player alternates between the role of accompanist and soloist. Far less common is the concept of a recording that alternates solos by each of the pianists, making even sharper the contrasts and likenesses. As life partners, Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz have shared far more than simply musical experiences, and with Solos they demonstrate that common knowledge and musical cross-fertilization can result in styles which, while clearly influenced by each others' personal explorations, can still be distinct and unmistakable.

Both players have roots in pure American folk music, but Holcomb, also an accomplished singer/songwriter with a number of fine albums to her credit, including Rockabye ('92) and the more-recent The Big Time ('02), wears her personal view of the American heartland more directly on her sleeve. Still, with a style that's as much influenced by the impressionism of Erik Satie as it is the polytonal approach of Charles Ives and the distinctly American inflection of Aaron Copland, Holcomb's folk roots are coloured with a more oblique sensibility. Her "Before the Comet Comes"—at thirteen minutes, both the longest piece and the centre point of the album—shows just how successfully Holcomb has meshed these diverse influences with an improvisational style that comes in no small way from the solo works of Keith Jarrett.

Keith Jarrett also informs Horvitz, who demonstrates a more linear approach and a clearer rooting in/understanding of the American jazz tradition. Less abstruse than Holcomb, his tracks are recognizable through their more direct approach. Still, tunes like "Tired," with its bittersweet and subtly melancholic feeling, are particularly compelling because one can feel Holcomb's more skewed approach subtly infect Horvitz's playing, while its clearer roots in the blues distinguish it as a Horvitz piece. Horvitz's reading of Wayne Shorter's "Armageddon" is, again, inarguably reverential and referential to Jarrett, unquestionably the shared link here.

The remarkable thing about Solos is that, for all the shared experiences and common musical ground, the two players are instantly recognizable. Once one knows that the opening track, "Reno," is a Holcomb piece, it becomes unnecessary to look at the CD notes to find out who is playing on subsequent pieces; their styles are that distinctive. Touch, phrasing, dynamics and subtle nuances are some of the characteristics that differentiate players, but on Solos Holcomb and Horvitz distinguish themselves equally by their general sensibilities: Holcomb, the slightly twisted view and Horvitz, the more straightforward approach. Beautifully recorded as an SACD hybrid and an album filled with subtle beauty and moments of darkness, Solo forcefully demonstrates how similar yet disparate two players who have spent the majority of their lives together can truly be.

Visit Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz on the web.


Track Listing: Reno; Tired; Armageddon; The Pleasures of Motion; Joanna's Solo; Before the Comet Comes; Stars Fell on Alabama; Interpretation #1; The Road to Zamora; Buttermilk Hill; Up Do; Interpretation #2; Done For; Crispin and Lisa's Duet

Personnel: Robin Holcomb (piano), Wayne Horvitz (piano)

Title: Solos | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings

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