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Monday, February 6, 2017

Isabelle Duthoit and Georg Graewe – Parlance (Nuscope, 2016) ***½

By Troy Dostert

A stimulating, creative matchup between two like-minded improvisers who both draw inspiration from the classical tradition, Parlance features clarinetist/vocalist Isabelle Duthoit performing sixteen miniatures with pianist Georg Graewe. Duthoit is the relative newcomer, involved in a range of projects including duo performances with Franz Hautzinger in recent years, while Graewe is a veteran of a host of recordings, including his own duo meetings with John Butcher and Evan Parker (for the latter, see here). Both are entirely comfortable with the intimacy of this format, and it shows, as they evince supreme confidence in their individual agendas while forging a common voice through their carefully developed, patient explorations.

Duthoit has remarkable range on the clarinet, as she is capable of dizzying flights, sustained upper-register passages, and harsher atonal techniques that venture well beyond the instrument’s more melodious side. Her classical training comes through on the record’s opener, “Doubt and Assertion I,” where she develops pristine, fluid runs that are focused and sharply-articulated. But she’s just as prone to devote her attention to repeated interrogations of single notes, or to draw out the textural possibilities of her instrument, as on the opening segment of “Red Herring,” where her playing consists largely of her breath, with only the barest suggestion of actual notes taking shape. Duthoit’s virtuosity lies more in her willingness to take risks and investigate the possibilities of sound, rather than dazzling the listener with her technique (although she does have some very impressive moments on the disc: listen to her stunning interval leaps on “Dog and Duck” as evidence). Like Duthoit, Graewe’s approach is sinuous and subtle. He prefers indirection to more forceful statements, which makes him the perfect partner for Duthoit. He can follow and goad Duthoit during her more assertive forays, but during most of the record he offers up spare phrases and interjections to offer contrast and support to Duthoit’s musings.

Although with sixteen different improvisations there is a good amount of diversity, there is also a sameness to some of the pieces that may test the patience of some listeners. By the second half of the record Duthoit and Graewe start re-covering ground explored earlier, and Graewe’s playing at times becomes a bit more distant and perfunctory. Even so, there are a lot of fascinating moments here, and it’s a worthwhile entry on the résumé for both musicians.