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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Michael and Peter Formanek - Dyads (Out of Your Head Records, 2021) ****½


By Gary Chapin

Being a father with a son, I will foreground the fact that I was easy prey for the sentimental angle on this fantastic set of music. I’m not going to say I was deceived, or that I was driven to over value the sounds because the circumstance is so charming, but the father-son-story of Michael and Peter Formanek was one of the reasons I chose to talk about this disc, as opposed to any of the hundreds (not kidding) of discs that cross my field of vision in this role. That said, I don’t really need an excuse to talk about Michael Formanek, easily my favorite bassist during “these times.”

Dyads is a duet set between Michael Formanek and his son, Peter, on tenor saxophone and clarinet. It’s a quiet-ish (-ist?) affair, with the space and the communication achieving a level of clarity that I so very much love. The level of sympatico between Michael and Peter is — I’m not going to call it extraordinary, but that’s what it is. Listening to them construct these pieces (with composing duties pretty much equally divided between the two) is like being privy to an intimate conversation. There is an equity to the roles that is emblematic of M Formanek’s past work. Yes, the bass supports, and it also weaves melody, and the saxophone also supports. There is a mutuality to the playing here that wins me over.

I have two platonic ideals for this sort of super small group setting. The first is the bass/reed duet on Anthony Braxtons Five Pieces 1975. Dave Holland and Braxton do a bursting out of the gates version of “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” That was the time I understood what Tom Waits’ meant when he said, “Someone oughta lock up that bass!” Holland swung so hard on that. He was so “original and inevitable.” And, again, there was that clarity of voice. Braxton and Holland in conversation. The second platonic ideal for “this kind of thing” is the trio work of Jimmy Giuffre. It might be that I am being swayed into seeing this connection by Peter Formanek’s giuffrian horns. Neither the tenor nor the clarinet is a second horn. Each is a voice of its own, weaving a thoughtful, knotty post-bop reality that almost defines my sweet spot.

Also, it seems important to mention that this duet was recorded in a studio in 2020 and the sound is goddanged exquisite. I’m no audiophile, but the depth of sound coming from Formanek’s bass reminds me of the time I sat three feet away from Reggie Workman doing his thing. It’s hypnotic. Ensorceling.

The Pre-Apocalyptic Michael Formanek Quartet (Out of Your Head Records, 2020) ****

Not that long ago it felt like there was a system of stellar bodies orbiting each other in the free jazz firmament and those bodies were Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, and Craig Taborn. The playlist that could be constructed of their combined work would be formidable and bring much joy. My favorite of the lot — this is me going out on a limb, now — was Formanek’s ECM disc, The Rub and Spare Change. This disc is a live set done in 2014 with those three eminences (and Gerald Cleaver on drums) doing the Rub repertoire. Again, I am not an audiophile, but the sound on the ECM record is (to quote myself) “goddanged exquisite,” and it is jarring to move from that to the rougher confines of a live club recording. But it’s more than made up for by getting to hear these pieces being done over by folks who are constitutionally incapable of doing the same thing twice. The creativity that unfolds … is exactly what you would expect from this crew and it is utterly engaging and fascinating. Like an amazing Carrollian rabbit hole that drags you into it.


Captain Hate said...

I saw the Formaneks in a small performance space over a bar in 2019. I didn't know what to expect from Peter but trusted his father to not embarrass his offspring by putting him in a situation he wasn't ready for and was richly rewarded by a precocious young talent. Michael was a known quality but seeing him in such a small space was a plus.