By Matthew Banash
These two albums have led me to some larger questions. As a listener, I found each work unique with individuation being a lasting impression. As a thinker, I know nothing arises out of itself. So, how can two separate works, similar in instrumentation and with the tenor and soprano saxes of Ingrid Laubrock being a common denominator, work with homogeneity and heterogeneity while being a unique part of a whole? I’ll skip the respective bona fides except to say the musicians are accomplished so let’s dive into this double shot of duets.
Ingrid Laubrock & Aki Takase - Kasumi (Intakt, 2020) ****
Takase and Laubrock first performed together in 2016’s JazzFest Berlin that referenced Louis Armstrong’s famous duet with Earl Hines on Weather Bird in 1928 in a larger scope of jazz as the art of conversation. in a cross-national They hit it off and played a few more times before heading into the studio to record. The tunes tend to brevity more than expanse with some as short as 1:28 and other hovering around the 3 to 5-minute length. Overall, the 14 tunes clock in at a little over 50 minutes which lends the album an impressionistic vibe.
The writing was handled on a fairly even basis and it’s a pleasure to listen to Laubrock and Takase finding their footing in playing together as Takase usually defers to Laubrock but always has a free flourish or subtlety to enhance the music; considered and playful not just devil may care whimsy In Japanese 'Kasumi' can mean “mist” or it can be a compound of “ka” or “flower, blossom” with “sumi” meaning “clear, pure.” And the opening title track establishes evolving impressionism that runs through the album. Tracks 4,5, and 6 is particularly nice stretch on the recording. On track 4, “Chimera” Laubrock slows down but expands at least note wise and here is where Takase goes to freer flourishes that both counter and fit Laubrock’s stylings. Takase takes a serious and studied turn on track 5, “Harlekin” but the playing and rapport is never staid.
There’s always with a playful lurking around the corner and the duo, with Laubrock on soprano, explores these moments with unity and dissonance as well as whimsy without ever becoming disjointed or fragmented. On the next track, “Dark Clouds”, Takase grooves and rumbles then Laubrock joins skipping squeaking and gliding. About two minutes in there’s a tempo shift that paints the music as elastic and amorphous. The briefer pieces like “Scurry”, “Density”, and “Carving Water” add to ephemeral tone and despite their brevity never feel incomplete. “Scurry” is a pleasure encapsulating the song’s title, sounds and length into a musical definition. Just fun. “Luftspiegelung” means “mirage” in German and with “Kasumi” this song bookends the international feel of the album. One of the longer pieces, it feels like a synthesis of ideas and sounds played throughout the entire recording.
Listen and download from Bandcamp.
Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis - Blood Moon (Intakt, 2020) ****
Laubrock and Davis have known each other and performed together in variety of groups and settings for well over a decade. The playing and compositions reveal the length and depth of that relationship. The parts seem to fit not so much where you expect them to fit but where they make sense. Like Kasumi this recording contains the element of surprise, too. As on “Kasumi” the writing was shared evenly. On the 9 tunes spread out over nearly 53 minutes Laubrock uses range and repetition well, and even breaks out the soprano on a few numbers, and Davis applies steadfast rhythms imbued with lives and patterns of their own.
The melodies are reminiscent of folk music. Notable examples are, but not limited to the songs below: "Snakes and Lattice", a Kris Davis tune, has a “cat’ n’ mouse” feel. It’s a fluid, folksy fairy tale that establishes the tone of the record for me with it vibrant, measured introspection rather than contemplation. Laubrock composed "Maroon" and does it feel lonely? Yes, but the album heretofore is more sparseness than crowds. Again, Laubrock and Davis seem to play with and without one another. But the ethos tethers their choices and sounds. Here they aren’t afraid to make a rumble or take a deft turn. Momentum and repetition play important roles here as throughout the recording. Davis accelerates the tempo on her "Golgi Complex", but this is a wonderful opportunity to tune into the duo’s give and take, back and forth, lead and follow dynamic; about halfway through it's like you can hear them listening to one another. Creating something unique in a tried and true duo of piano and sax. Davis is at her subtle best altering some notes to reward you for listening.
"Elephant in the Room" is a joint effort and seems like a bit of a respite. The artists’ tones and predilections are entrenched in your ear by now. A good thing. They hone their rapport further and the piece can stand alone of take up its part in the program. "Jagged Jaunts" by the saxophonist is just a fun tittle to say and takes the duo out on a bouncy brief exit. No hard and fast truisms, generally Takase follows Laubrock while Davis and the saxophonist unite in the lead voice at times. Each artist exists without the other. But they also exist together. And it serves the interested, thoughtful patient listener to receive and enjoy them like that.
One never loses sight (or ear?) of who is playing with Laubrock. The musicians leave room for the music and personalities to flourish in a range of dynamics. And everyone involved knows their way around a tune and their respective instrument which seems obvious but sometimes it can be the obvious we miss.
The music is real life conversations and dialogues which are not subsumed by sender/receiver/dynamics, but vibrant in their interaction and always democratic.
Listen and download from Bandcamp.