With the now 37 year-old ongoing partnership of Chick Corea and Gary Burton, it might appear that the gold standard for piano/vibraphone duets has been set. But while they don't perform or record nearly as often, vibraphonist Joe Locke and pianist Frank Kimbrough have set their own standard for playing as a duo. Much like friends who, despite the passing of many years between encountering each other, pick up where they left off as if no time has passed, Verrazano Moonrecorded live in 2006captures Locke and Kimbrough continuing the conversation begun seven years earlier on the stunningly beautiful Saturn's Child (OmniTone, 1999).
With Kimbrough a less percussive player than Corea, and the equally versatile Locke largely adopting a soft tone than Burton, Verrazano Moon is a gentler listen than the albums of Corea/Burton, but no less compellingand, like their predecessors, Locke and Kimbrough are players with that rare ability to find perfection in every corner. Locke's dark-hued "Forgiveness" is expressive in the kind of nuanced fashion that only musicians with nothing left to prove can accomplish. Virtuosity is a given, yet both players approach the music with complete reverence and respect; it's the music, first and foremost after all, and when the musicians serve it, magic happens.
And there's plenty of magic to be found on this 60-minute set of three originals each from Locke and Kimbrough, two jazz standards, and a solo spot for Locke, who reinvents Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" as he has other pop tunes in the past; finding the essence of the song and expanding it into something that, without the confines of strict time, becomes completely his own. It's an elegant demonstration that good music is where you find it, and that in the hands of an interpretive master, it can be taken to wonderfully unexpected places.
Kimbrough also gets a solo spot on Duke Ellington's equally elegant "Single Petal of a Rose," where he deconstructs and reconstructs the melancholy melody again and again; Like Locke, with complete reverence but also with an eye to finding something new in this cherished classic.
But it's when the two play together that the real magic takes place. Kimbrough's aptly titled "Twenty Bars" is blues-tinged, but with a more sophisticated set of changes that challenge both players to wind melodies through its lengthy sequence. It fits within the album's overall gentle vibe while being moving, at the same time, on a very physical level; proof that there's great power in subtlety and understatement.
Locke's title track is further evidence of the vibraphonist's innate ability to speak through ballads with great depth and almost Jungian significance. First heard with his 4 Walls of Freedom group on Dear Life (Sirocco, 2004), here it's a more subdued reading that mines its poignant melody for all it's worth. Kimbrough and Locke may not be as well-known as Corea and Burton, but they should be. They may not collaborate as frequently, but on the strength of Verrazano Moon, it's clear they should.
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