Double Duo

Crossword Puzzle
Libra Records 104-017

With trumpeters Angelo Verploegen of the Netherlands and Japan’s Natsuki Tamura serving as their corner men, two of jazz’s most idiosyncratic pianists – Holland’s Misha Mengelberg and Satoko Fujii, who divides her time between Tokyo and New York – face off in this live Amsterdam concert.

Completely improvised, the interpretations on the more than 33½-minute centerpiece and a less than 10-minute sequel allow the two keyboardists to move from foreground to background and vice versa; to complement each others’ phrases; to contrapuntally evoke other strategies; and to finish each others’ musical thoughts. It isn’t clear which pianist plays when, but it’s a good bet that to keep the performance off balance, trickster Mengelberg invokes burlesque piano exercises, harsh internal string-plucking and pedal pressure, while spinning out phrases that subtract or add to the proper number of beats.

Acclaimed as an arranger and bandleader, Fujii likely provides the organic undertow for the tunes, expertly splashing sharp and emphasized notes to create polyphony. Additionally, halfway though “a butterfly, bee, mantis and grasshopper”, both pianists combine for rumbling interplay that could be a four-handed expression of a James P. Johnson’s stride performance.

The trumpeters contribute as well. Tamura, Fujii’s long-time partner, and Verploegen, artistic director of the Concertgebouw’s jazz orchestra, who conceived of the meeting, are as chameleonic as the pianists. Open-horned and muted, the two hopscotch between sharp, fortissimo flourishes and guttural low-pitched cadences, evoking mouthpiece kisses, plunger note extractions and burnished horn textures. The CD’s high point is the conclusion of “a butterfly …” showcasing a jocular back-and-forth dialogue of corkscrewed growl, rasps, ratchets and sniffs from the brassmen as the dual pianos clink and clank behind them.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 336