Raymond MacDonald & Marilyn Crispell

Parallel Moments
Babel BDV 13125

Agustí Fernández/Mats Gustafsson

Constellations

Clamshell CR23

Despite their perceptible differences – a Scott and an American recorded in a 2010 concert; a Swede and a Catalan recorded in a studio in 2013 – these superlative saxophone-piano duos have more in common throughout their 10-track CDs than the fact that none of the four players accept Jazz’s contemporary status quo.

For despite Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s reputation as an untamed reed explorer as opposed to Glasgow’s Raymond MacDonald as a more classicist Free stylist, when either plays soprano saxophone here, the results are as sensitive as could be from men whose vocabulary long ago internalized the advances of saxophonist as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann. Elsewhere, Gustafsson is suitably bellicose on baritone; and McDonald more abrasive on alto. The other point of congruence is that while American pianist Marilyn Crispell was first known for her rugged style, which aimed to translate Coltrane’s expanded vibrations to the keyboard, she’s quite subdued at the beginning of her duos on this disc; only become more rigorously experimental and percussive as the recital unrolls. In contrast, Catalan Agustí Fernández, who brings matchless so-called classical technique as well as cooperative strategies from working in larger and smaller ensembles, is the soundboard roughneck here. While the American only tries out preparation on her strings in the CD’s penultimate minute, Fernández’s strings and keys are prepped for musical combat from the first. His strokes, plucks, echoes and thrusts not only demand tough ripostes from Gustafsson, but also sonically introduce electronics insinuations.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t passages of lyrical keyboard beauty on Gustafsson/ Fernández tracks such as “Serpens”. Yet from the beginning of “Altinak”, the CD’s very first tune, the pianist pulls such a collection of textures from his instrument that more than frequently the piano’s action, dampers, hammers and pins are involved as much as the keyboard; plus he adds the cracks and crumbles that can be scrubbed from the wound strings themselves. With these piano strategies frequently arising in the basso range, Gustafsson habitually brings his baritone saxophone into play, using pressurized circular breathing and sour, bitten-off snorts to make his point(s).

Still when Fernández isn’t jabbing keys or strumming keys with knife-like-precision –or even when he is – on droll duels such as “Indus” and “Mintaka”, Gustafsson’s soprano saxophone strategies help create a more moderated overview. Peeping multiphonics are there; but so is smooth flutter tonguing which creates the soothing buttery topping for the tart-root-vegetable-like flavors implicit in the piano expositions. This is particularly evident on “Mintaka”. Despite Fernández’s pounding glissandi being expressed at warp speed, the reed man eventually trades in his tone spurts for a mellow overlay of arpeggios. As the two continue to sashay towards the session’s completion, they germinate an individualized cohesion that impresses with its brusque serenity.

You could say the same thing about Parallel Moments, since at points the piano-saxophone intertwining emerges as either brusque or serene. Crispell’s improvisations are now more balladic and methodical than they were during her tenure in Anthony Braxton’s quartet. And so at the beginning of this live concert in London, MacDonald as the United Kingdom-based host, works out of a gentlemanly moderato groove. As leader of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, which has played host to players such as Parker, Crispell and Maggie Nicols, he understands structural design and how to bend to others’ tactics.

Nonetheless, at mid-point, by the time tracks such as “Conversation” and “Notes in the Sky” are enlarged upon, staccato abrasiveness starts to creep into Crispell’s solos. A swinging sway on her part enlivens the second tune, confirming that she has relaxed into a new role. MacDonald’s twittering chirps and tone extension meet cantering cadenzas from the piano, culminating in a note held long enough to become a parallel moment. “Conversation” is 11 minutes of just that as drawing room gentility is put aside for some broadsword-like parries and thrusts. Crispell unleashes a selection of racing octave jumps, contrasting dynamics and rumbles, while MacDonald’s response includes yakkity-sax brays and flutter tonguing.

The agitated motifs liven up the interface long enough to pull both players back to mirrored and more stimulating improvisations on the final two tracks. Settling into a smeared concordance by the end, the penultimate title track presents a kinetic run through of their dual talents: gentle and spiky.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Constellations: 1. Altinak 2. Grsu 3. Ursa 4. Serpens 5. Tucana 6. Indus 7. Mintaka 8. Alnilam 9. Taurus 10. Sculptor

Personnel: Constellations: Mats Gustafsson (soprano and baritone saxophones) and Agustí Fernández (piano and prepared piano)

Track Listing: Parallel: 1. Longing 2. Town and City Halls 3. Conversation 4. Subtle Freedom 5. Notes in the Sky 6. Illumination 7. Flame 8. Sun Song 9.Parallel Moments 10. Distant Voices

Personnel: Parallel: Raymond MacDonald (soprano and alto saxophones) and Marilyn Crispell (piano)