Scott R. Looney & Klaus Janek

Edgetone EDT 4104

Stephan Crump/James Carney

Echo Run Pry

Clean Feed CF 199 CD

Although the piano is the most orchestral of instruments and the double bass initially designed for strictly accompanist or rhythmic functions, in Jazz and Improvised Music keyboard-bass pairings are as common as hearing two guitars and a drum set in Rock. However for this pairing to move beyond the commonplace, extrasensory perception of each partner’s skills is almost obligatory.

This truism is validated on these duo CDs. As sophisticated as it in execution, with some exceptionally connective moments, the meeting of New Yorkers, pianist James Carney and bassist Stephan Crump, betrays its genesis as serendipitous improvisations created when other members missed a rehearsal of the band in which both were involved. Attempts to compensate for the missing musicians may be why the two tracks, which time in at either side of 24 minutes each, drag at points.

Berlin-based bassist Klaus Janek and pianist Scott R. Looney from Oakland are able to express many more textural ideas on the nine shorter tracks on their CD, named for the studio at which it was recorded. Looney, whose playing experience encompasses pure improv, Jazz and electronic music with associates as different as saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist Damon Smith; and the Italian-born Janek, who is involved in sound research and composition as well as playing with the likes of trombonist Johannes Bauer and trumpeter Paul Brody; began collaborating a year before this date. Conceiving their meeting as a self-contained duo, means that individual or group meditations on sonics and textures are incorporated into the program.

For musicians improvising as a duo for the first time, Crump and Carney aren’t particularly awkward on these tracks, captured by the bassist’s mobile recording equipment. Then again both are involved in similar simpatico situations. The pianist’s own band includes notable bassist Chris Lightcap as well as soloists such as saxophonist Tony Malaby; while Crump is part of pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio and guitarist Liberty Ellman’s quartet. On this CD the idea isn’t so much hitting a groove as finding tonal affiliations and dynamics which can be mirrored, stretched or contrasted. Although some of the results take on an ever more percussive timbres, overall the interface is characterized by more languid and paced string strums and note clusters.

Singular keyboard pops and shaking woody rumbles characterize “Wood Genre” the more extended second track, with Crump managing to furiously but moderately plucks his strings as Carney’s shuffled portamento downshifts to a more moderate pace. Soon the pianist’s ringing arpeggios are blending with the bassist’s plinks and creaks. Light, fanciful key tickles give way to internal string stops and soundboard shakes as Carney attempts to destabilize Crump’s metronomic bass line. Three-quarters of the way through a skittering fantasia turns into a climatic defining moment as pedal-pressured bounces against the piano wood, connect to similar wood thumps and string pressure from the bassist. Key mashing and internal string-striking match up with methodical single note plucks, as the final variant turns to concordance.

While connection through dissonance is a similar leitmotif for Looney and Janek, the result is less catch-can. Unlike the other CD which is a reductionist showcase for creation without additional musicians’ input, the American-German team takes a reverse approach. Both the pianist and the bassist have created notable solo statements in the past, so 1510 becomes a way to meld individual conceptions into a coherent whole.

Strangely enough, despite its prominence on the sleeve, electronic interface is understated throughout. Instead the majority of the distinctive sounds shaping the tracks relate to extended techniques. “Eccentric Lottos” for instance showcases the bell-tree-like reverberations that arise from the prepared piano strings as piezo pickups extend sul ponticello bass lines so that they resemble half electro-pulsations and half chromatic slaps. As foreign objects are shaken by the piano strings upon which they rest, further rattling the capotes and sound board, Janek’s tonal string slaps vibrate alongside. Looney could be whacking his piano’s internal strings with soft mallets as Janek pumps his strings on “Unpaid Asbestos”, as these sustained clanks and crunches somehow presage whistling tones. Oscillating wave form explosions may be present, but it is wood-rending cracks and string pressures which relocate the track’s tonal centre and define the piece.

More clattering implements are audible on “Cantabile Processions”, but here the resulting shrill pitches contrapuntally evolve alongside almost tuba-like tones from the bassist. As Looney’s piano clusters shudder, his voicing moves southwards to burrowing belly tones, with pedal pressure not only widening the results, but also shaking the cymbals or plates resting on internal piano strings. With Janek’s col legno response linear and lower-pitched, conclusive almost violin-like bow pressure atonality cuts through the pianist’s swirling, high frequency cascades. Similarly the tremolo clinks and textural jumps produced by stopped and strummed strings on “Ineffectual Test Knots” echo the bassist’s multiphonic slides and scrubs. When the joint sequences begin to evoke futurist rococo, the friction from Janek’s sul tasto lines helps unravel Looney’s layered harmonies. The result is a final variant that preserves lively parallelism as it fades.

In their first dual recorded effort Crump and Carney demonstrate some memorable moves and suggestions of what they can achieve in the future with tighter timeframes, prior planning and thematic coherence. Further along on that two-man journey, Looney and Janek provide an exemplar of what can be achieved in the piano-bass format.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Echo: 1. Rodeo Gwen 2. Wood Genre

Personnel: Echo: James Carney (piano) and Stephan Crump (bass)

Track Listing: 1510: 1. Antitank Jeep 2. Eccentric Lottos 3. Bonsai Spa 4. Cantabile Processions 5. Stuffed Entente 6. Nearly Wooden 7. Ineffectual Test Knots 8. Unpaid Asbestos 9. Transoceanic Possibilities

Personnel: 1510: Scott R. Looney (prepared piano and electronics) and Klaus Janek (bass and electronics)