Agustí Fernández/Barry Guy

Some Other Place
Maya MCD 0902

Borah Bergman & Giorgio Dini

One More Time

SILTA Records SR801

Dating from a time when intimate night clubs feared the potentially bombastic rhythms of a drum kit, piano-bass duos – often with the additional of a guitar – became the last work in sophisticated jazz. Employed memorably by piano stylists as different as Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans, a tendency towards fussiness and minimalist panache is avoided if the strength of the pianist and bassist are equally matched.

While both sessions here have much to offer, it’s obvious that Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández and veteran British bassist Barry Guy are more evenly matched than American pianist Borah Bergman and Italian bassist Giorgio Dini. The reason is simple. Fernandez, whose playing partners have encompassed American bassist William Parker and Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, is a long-time associate of Guy, as part of the bassist’s New Jazz Orchestra, and a quartet with saxophonist Evan Parker. Ambidextrous Bergman, whose cascades of notes flow from either hand, matches Cecil Taylor in pianistic intensity and usually improvises alongside such equally other-directed players as saxophonists Peter Brötzmann and Parker plus drummers Andrew Cyrille and Hamid Drake. Meanwhile Varese-native Dini has worked in many improv contexts with partners ranging from pianist Gianni Lenoci to trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and saxophonist George Haslam. But he can be forgiven for being diffident in this first-time meeting with Bergman’s overbearing pianism.

Initially when confronted by the musical equivalent of a ferocious wildcat that operates by his own logic, the bassist hangs back and seems to be merely following along. Yet by the completion of the seventh track he’s asserted himself enough so that his position is analogous to that of a young fighter going against Muhammad Ali – not only is he still standing, barely bloodied, but he has managed to let loose with a few haymakers of his own.

“Hustle” marks this change is dynamics, as Dini’s woody shuffle bowing and percussive stopping matching Bergman’s kinetic metronomic runs and cascading chordal patterns. While the pianist is using foot pedal power to pressure splintering and hammering from one hand; he’s using the other to pace thematic circular patterns. As the bassist’s steadying bowing turns to col legno stops, Bergman pauses to wind-up wide player-piano like syncopation which is swiftly decorated with melodic, bowed invention from Dini.

As Bergman’s improvisations cascade through references to Stride, Swing, Ragtime, Klezmer, Bop and who-knows-what-else, it’s instructive to note how the bassist woks his chord-muting counterpoint to this string-key miasma. After the CD’s mid-point however, Dini’s pumping, stopping and plucking are able to amplify the keyboardist’s galloping cascades which sometimes appear equal parts melancholy and frenetic. If a part doesn’t appear to fit, like an unschooled early New Orleans player, Bergman merely piles more notes and textures upon it until it does.

“No More Cosmetic”, the CD’s final track illustrates Dini coming into his own. Operating with broken chords, his pulsating, contrapuntal movements provide interjections within Bergman’s lava flow of dynamic rumbles, runs and rebounds that are more hyperactive than the movements of a newly born puppy. With his ambidextrous motions in boldest relief, you can hear one hand advancing the thematic line while the other shreds a parallel texture with broken-octave clinks and clatters. The drawback of this is that some of the bassist’s more rhapsodic passages are nearly buried underneath Bergman’s roller-coaster-like keyboard motions, with the pianist streaking from allegro to staccatissimo and shoehorning references to other tunes into his solo. Climatically the two eventually intersect during a passage of double-pulsed lyricism. The result is a satisfying conclusion. However, with Dini having reached the status of a contender with this session, a rematch between the two would seem to be in order.

Some Other Place’s 10 tracks evolve at a much less frantic pace then One More Time’s. One reason might be that unlike the Bergman-Dini free improvisations, the tracks here are composed by one or both players. Especially interesting are that two of Guy’s three compositions recall his background in so-called early music in their melodiousness and romanticism.

“Blueshift (for M.H.)” – probably celebrating the fine baroque violinist Maya Homburger, Guy’s wife – is filled with European semi-classical allusions. Fernández’ full-flavored emphasis is on chords with measured temperament plus soundboard echoes, ending with a romantic fantasia of note sprinkles and reflections. Meanwhile the bassist’s guitar-like licks expand the theme moderato, then let deliberate strokes and rhythms vibrate underneath the piano chords.

Initially more bristly, with flashing sul ponticello bass lines and stops plus powerful internal piano string strums, the title tune soon dispenses with these strategies to introduce another near-largo line which mutates into a “Moonlight Sonata”-styled intermezzo. But since this is Free Music not Mood Music, the piece is transformed one more time before completion with many-fingered dynamic thrusts from Fernández and swift stopping from Guy.

As a rule, Fernández’ own compositions are more concerned with the staccato and contrapuntal properties of the instruments in broken octave interaction than Guy’s. “The Helix” for instance includes so many whistling timbres from strummed bass strings and vibrated piano strings that the resulting texture takes on near wave-form oscillations. Most others encompass a story telling aspect as well as technical pan-tonality.

On the other hand, the oddly titled “How to Go Into a Room You Are Already In” features resonating allegro plucks from Guy that isolate the reflective meditation from the pianist as he outlines the theme. While Fernández works his way southwards, the bassist first counters with measured pizzicato stops and then high-pitched sul ponticello slices that eventually deepen in tone and intensity. Bravura and mercurial “Barnard’s Loop” aligns slinking crab-like keyboard reaches from Fernández with strident plucks and striated spiccato rubs from Guy. Bouncing along the keyboard and among the internal strings, the pianist makes common cause with Guy’s rasgueado and shuffle bowing.

A satisfying meeting of equals, this CD is yet another notable addition to both men’s discographies.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Some: 1. Annalisa 2. Barnard’s Loop 3. How to Go Into a Room You Are Already In 4. Rosette 5. Blueshift (for M.H.) 6. Boomerang Nebula 7. Crab Nebula 8. Some Other Place 9. Dark Energy 10. The Helix

Personnel: Some: Agustí Fernández (piano) and Barry Guy (bass)

Track Listing: One: 1. One More 2. Autograph Two 3. Hustle 4. Enough for His Keep 5. Equitable 6. A Patter of Footsteps 7. No More Cosmetic

Personnel: One: Borah Bergman (piano) and Giorgio Dini (bass)