The duet is a pure format for joint improvisation, especially with two melodic instruments, and even more with a harmonic and solo instrument, like here, the piano and clarinet or soprano: sound and melody become a thing to play with, to jointly create, to nurture and make grow together, drive it in one direction, or back, or sideways. Possibilities for the next note are infinite, yet shaping it together coherently requires tremendous listening and instrumental skills, of the Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron level. It also requires this element of intimacy : you need to open yourself for the other, with your vulnerabilities on a silver plate, and that's possibly the hardest part. Here are some great recent examples.
Marilyn Crispell & David Rothenberg - One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM, 2010) ****
Gianni Lenoci & Gianni Mimmo - Reciprocal Uncles (Amirani, 2010) ****
Jazzy playfulness in "Steppin' Elements", and modern classical permeate all pieces. It is not easy listening, yet very rewarding.
Niko Meinhold & Noel Taylor - Border Patrol (Self Published, 2010) ****
Splatter" CD, here forming a duet with German pianist Niko Meinhold. The intro of the first piece already gives a great sense of direction: this duo can create suspense : sparse clarinet tones, and the use of extended techniques on the piano strings, make you want to know what is coming next, how these otherworldly sounds will evolve, merge, bounce back. Without working with themes or even recognisable patterns, the two musicians master and integrate the legacy of their training : from classical music, jazz, blues to more modern aspects of new music and avant-garde, nicely navigating between romantic lyricism and abstract tension and discovery, this is music with character and vision. Both are also great at using silence and pace in the development of their improvisations. Their lack of urgency gives most pieces a very careful, even cautious feeling, with the quality of the notes getting preference over their quantity or even of the complexity of the interaction.
Listen and buy from CDBaby.
Watch a visual artist's impression of "Invocation" by Crispell and Rothenberg (possibly the most romantic piece on the album)
Buy from Instantjazz.