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The Art of the Duo: Keys and Reeds

Geno Thackara By

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Two duos, both alike in dignity, though taking the approach to very different ends:

Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch
Live in Healdsburg
Anzic Records
2018

What's taken these two so long? Okay, of course they've both juggled collaborations and cross-pollinations in many different contexts, and considering the nature of the job, it's probably not too surprising that Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch need time to fit new endeavors into their busy schedules. What's more surprising is the astounding degree of chemistry they strike from the start. The mid-2016 festival set captured on Live in Healdsburg seems to have been one of their earliest outings in this format, but taking in their near-telepathic rapport, a casual listener could swear their back-and-forth had been finely honed for ages. Let's hope that its billing as "their debut duo recording" is phrased deliberately as a promise of more.

There's some room for the quiet intimacy Hersch shows in his solo piano outings; witness a miniature tour-de-force of his longtime staple "Child's Song" that sandwiches wistful elegance in between its playfully subdued heads. More often, though, his spry sense of time livens up each piece they tackle—a jaunty "Isfahan" gets adapted to these fun loping ryhthms as much as any of the duo's originals—and Cohen is always right there in stride. Their lines weave in beautiful counterpoint, from building the particularly dynamic-flowing centerpiece of "The Peacocks" to coasting to the finish with a quietly classy piece of Ellingtonia. The set isn't really a dialogue so much as a happy whirling dance. They spin one set of adept and audacious steps after another, spontaneous and unpredictable yet always bounding together to new joyous heights.

Frank Carlberg and Noah Preminger
Whispers and Cries
Red Piano Records
2018

Whispers and Cries makes a subtle and alluringly inventive yin to the above album's yang. Frank Carlberg's touch on the piano keys shows a restrained balladic sense of time geared more towards atmosphere than groove. He and Noah Preminger settle deep into their song structures like divers gently drifting to the sea floor where the light doesn't really reach. The melody lines are familiar, but there are no simple run-throughs in this program (all classic standards). Each one is a chance to slow down, stretch out in the empty spaces, and feel out how much or little to fill them in.

With clear unhurried tenor sax notes, Preminger presents the heads as simply as needed and as expressively as if they'd been written yesterday. Within the framework, there's a wonderful range for the pair to float, stretch, banter and always come back to earth with perfect smoothness. When they get a little busier, as on Carlberg's measure-stretching runs through "The Meaning of the Blues," it's still with deliberation, teasing out their own take on the piece while keeping the overall mood. The format and the track list may be long-established classics, but Preminger and Carlberg wouldn't dream of simply playing more of the same. This is an understated yet sharply eloquent session with a lot of thought behind every note.

Tracks and Personnel

Live in Healdsburg

Tracks: A Lark; Child's Song; The Purple Piece; Isfahan; Lee's Dream; The Peacocks; Jitterbug Waltz; Mood Indigo.

Personnel: Anat Cohen: clarinet; Fred Hersch: piano.

Whispers and Cries

Tracks: Someone to Watch Over Me; Take the A Train; Embraceable You; Reflections; The Meaning of the Blues; These Foolish Things; Try a Little Tenderness; Aura Lee; Tea for Two; I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.

Personnel: Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone; Frank Carlberg: piano.
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