Silke Eberhard-Ulrich Gumpert

Peanuts & Vanities
Jazz Werkstatt JW 131

Frank Paul Schubert-Uwe Oberg

Shots & Coups

Gligg Records 055

As open-ended as the participants want it to be, the saxophone-piano duet has been a staple of Jazz ever since a saxophonist first leaned against the piano framework during a session. Although the results usually ends up on the lyrical side – c.f. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, Archie Sheep and Horace Parlay and Lee Konitz with a clutch of different pianists – these German duos prove that the interface can be knotty as well as lulling.

Of the two groups, Wiesbaden-based pianist Use Oberg and Berlin-based saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert are similar in age and experience, having played with some of the top improvisers on the modern German scene, as well as recorded and worked with avatars of pioneering Free Jazz – Oberg with saxophonist Evan Parker and Schubert with percussionist Günter Baby Sommer. By happenstance Sommer`s closest long-time collaborator, Ulrich Gumpert, 68, is the pianist on Peanuts & Vanities, with alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who is many years younger. However besides leading her own bands Eberhard has also recorded duos with veteran pianists such as Dave Burrell and Aki Takase, while among his manifold achievements Gumpert recorded in duo with Steve Lacy.

The abstract/non-abstract nature of the CD’s 15 tracks is a bit of a puzzle however. Interrupted by two straightforward versions of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and one of “The Peanut Vendor”, that was a hit for Stan Kenton, all other duets appear to be exercises in dissonance. An additional question involves the reasoning behind the six “Vanities” titles. No more-or-less abstract than the other nine pieces, the attributes aren’t something normally associated with Jazz musicians of any stripe.

During the speedy “Peanut” variations, the role models would seem to be the most extended and spikiest work that took place between Charlie Parker and the many pianists with whom he recorded. At the same time both Germans are very cognizant of the changes that have taken place since Bird’s 1955 death and make a point of emphasizing atonal line shattering as well as distilling themes to their most pressurized extensions. Creating a steely Bebop augmentation, Eberhard’s hardened puffs, tremolo patterning and reed bites are alternately complemented or challenged by Gumpert. Putting aide his usual Blues-Gospel-like inferences, metronomic pacing and generous note pumping end up making his pianism almost stately here, with touch of unsentimental romanticism added

Without downshifting into gentleness, the pianist adds smoother glissandi in such a way that his spreading note pattern help regularize the sax lines as well. With Gumpert creating an almost-Tristano-like backbeat, the reed sputters and sectional split tones began accepting balladic references, culminating in legato reading of “The Peanut Vendor”, on which Eberhard uses a near-clarinet-sounding pitch.

Ostensibly playing both soprano and alto saxophone, while dealing with a set of original instant compositions, Frank Paul Schubert’s narrative is more elastic than Eberhard’s; while Oberg’s keyboard strategy involves many more tropes than Gumpert’s. For instance on three subsequent tracks, “Sansevieria”, “Roadhouse Mugshot” and “Spodumen” the saxophonist moves from propelling nearly motionless air with wide vibrations to revealing pressurized, low-pitched, double-tonguing to finally overblowing violent multiphonics. In response, the pianist is surprisingly understated, with almost New music-like plinking; wide-ranging keyboard echoes and whorls and inner-piano string plinks coupled with heavy pedal pressure.

That doesn’t mean that Shots & Coups is an essay in cause and effect, but with both players experienced in duo strategies it’s evident that any challenge posed by one can’t be met by the other. Eventually Schubert and Oberg reach a climatic summation in “Paul's Cab, Again” – meaning subject to interpretation – where they attain the balladic mode, but express it without an ounce of sentimentality. Spiky outbursts and smooth oscillations are carefully balanced.

Before that though, they’ve individually proven that rewarding improv can be sourced for a variety of extended techniques. The sax man cycles through squirming staccato slurs that are met by hard syncopation from the pianist. Meanwhile a pile of cascading chords on the pianist’s part presages elevated tongue flutters from the saxophonist, with a follow-the-leader interface narrowed to a blended moderato line. On “Chant” undulating legato lines from both players are stretched to extremes without breaking and finally resolved as Oberg’s high-frequency strums easily complement Schubert’s staccato echoes.

Whether cohesion or abstraction is your preference, you will likely be satisfied with either or both of these saxophone-piano meetings.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Peanuts: 1. Peanuts #1 2. Peanuts #2 3. Peanuts #3 4. Salt Peanuts 5. Peanuts #4 6. Peanuts #5 7. Peanuts #6 8. Salt Peanuts again 9. Vanities # 1 10. Vanities #2 11.Vanities #3 12. Vanities #4 13. Vanities #5 14. Vanities #6 15, The peanut vendor-El Manisero

Personnel: Peanuts: Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone) and Ulrich Gumpert (piano)

Track Listing: Shots: 1. Gris De Bonne Heure 2. Fiduz I 3. Boules & Fields 4. Sansevieria 5. Roadhouse Mugshot 6. Spodumen 7. Chant 8. Fiduz II 9. Country Club 10. Paul's Cab, Again

Personnel: Shots: Frank Paul Schubert (alto and soprano saxophones) and Uwe Oberg (piano)