SOCIALLY DISTANCED DUOS / PEARRING-MINTZ: Twisting Pavement.1 Time in Isolation.1 PEARRING-DeBRUNNER: Shapeshifter.2 PEARRING-FILIANO: A Continuous Conversation Renewed.3 PEARRING-BROWN: Solar.4 No, We Don’t.4 PEARRING-CARTER: Present Value Impact, The Gift.5 PEARRING-MELA: Extempore Arquitecture 6 / Jeff Pearring, a-sax w/1Billy Mintz, dm; 2Claire de Brunner, bsn; 3Ken Filiano, bs; 4Cameron Brown, bs; 5Daniel Carter, s-sax; 6Francisco Mela, dm / self-produced CD, available at http://www.pearringsound.com
Full of musical inspiration but forced to stay separate from the regular bandmates of his band, Pearring Sound, alto saxist Jeff Pearring took to recording “socially distanced duos” with six of his musical friends in 2020. Whether they were simply six feet apart in the recording studio or in two different places is not made clear, but here is the result, scheduled for release on August 13.
It would be easy to say that this is a bit of a gimmick CD except for the fact that the musical quality is on a high level. As in the case of tenor saxist Ivo Perelman’s duets with pianist Matthew Shipp, each of these pieces are improvised free jazz to which titles were only given after the music was in the can.
Duos with drummers, even very good ones, are always a problem because the drums do not produce a musical line unless one is playing tympani (and jazz tympanists are extremely rare; to the best of my knowledge, Vic Berton was one of the last of his breed). Billy Mintz lays down a sort of modified march beat in Twisting Pavement and sticks with it; Pearring does a nice job of playing around it, but is somewhat rhythmically hemmed in by the insistent 4. At about the 4:25 mark, Mintz varies the rhythm slightly but sticks to his solid 4. On Time in Isolation, Mintz plays brushes in a slower 4, and here the more fluid sound allows Pearring to stretch his tones, creating interesting shapes. I should point out, however, that by contrast to Perelman, Pearring’s improvisations are strictly tonal and melodic, though in this number he does toss in a few interesting intervallic leaps and, at the six-minute mark, he does rise up into his high range for some interesting excursions.
With Shapeshifter, we reach one of the most interesting tracks on the entire album, a duet with jazz bassoonist(!) Claire de Brunner. In addition to traditional classical studies, de Brunner also worked intensely with Lee Konitz and Connie Crothers, both prize pupils of the original free jazz musician, Lennie Tristano. I was utterly fascinated by de Brunner’s ability to create and develop complex, interesting lines, which push Pearring to his outer limits as an improviser. Here, he does sound like Ivo Perelman, and that is a very high compliment. I only wish that de Brunner had made more jazz records, but apparently, according to All About Jazz, her work on recordings seems limited to a couple of experimental world music bands, one of which is called the Church of Annie. This is a real shame, as her playing and improvising here are on the very highest level. This is clearly one of the prize tracks on this album.
So too is A Continuous Conversation Renewed, on which bassist Ken Filiano reveals a rich, powerful sound and the ability to create lines that are interesting harmonically as well as rhythmically which again push Pearring to some very interesting improvisations. There is a certain resemblance here to the way bassist Charlie Haden interacted with Ornette Coleman on those old Atlantic recordings; I half-expected Don Cherry or someone like him to enter the conversation as well. Moreover, this one is a real duet in the sense that each of the two musicians are creating their own lines while listening to what the other is doing. It’s the kind of track that welcomes repeated listening just to catch everything that’s going on.
On the next two tracks, Solar and No, We Don’t, we switch to another bassist, Cameron Brown, who also has a rich, fat tone and good sense of structure but is more tonally and rhythmically conventional. Pearring again works well with him, but the results are just more like a standard alto sax-bass duo of the cool school and less like Coleman and Haden.
We return to outside jazz—and how!—in Pearring’s duet with soprano saxist Daniel Carter, and the interesting thing about this is that Carter is the one who plays fairly straight legato lines here and Pearring the one who is constantly going “outside.” But it’s a fun ride, and eventually Carter gets a bit more experimental and Pearring calms down a bit.
Drummer Francisco Mela, who plays with Pearring on the last two tracks, is an entirely different animal from Billy Mintz…and I do mean animal! He is all over the drums, setting and breaking up rhythms like a virtuoso, often with a Latin accent, and pushing Pearring into interesting musical nooks and crannies. Eventually Mela finds one nice rhythmic groove and sticks with it for a minute or two, and at that point Pearring also coalesces his sound; but as they used to say on TV shows, “stay tuned for more after these messages.”
But alas, that is the end of this relatively short CD. Recommended, particularly for the duets with de Brunner, Filiano, Carter and Mela. How nice that Jeff Pearring found some inspiration to lift everyone’s spirits during a time when many peoples’ were down.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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