Alexandra Grimal / Giovanni Di Domenico

August 8, 2021

Down the Hill

No Label No #

Matthew Ship/Evan Parker

Leonine Aspects

RogueArt ROG-0108

Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell


NotTwo MW 1010-2

Simon Nabatov/Michaël Attias

Brooklyn Mischief

Leo Records CD LR 901

Whether a low-key session is necessarily Chamber Jazz is not easy to answer when dealing with this quartet of discs. Although understated these saxophone-piano duos certainly lack the flabbiness and soporific time sense that mark some restrained Jazz dates. Using that criteria, “no” is the answer in most cases and “maybe” in another.

The outlier is Down the Hill, one of a series of collaborations between French soprano saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, who was in the Orchestra National de Jazz and Italian-born, Brussels-based pianist Giovanni di Domenico, who played with Steve Noble. The “maybe” results from those tunes where Grimal vocalizes rather than plays her instrument. The concluding “Voli Così” is literally an Italian pop hit. Still while the CD’s tempo is usually lento, the sound often mezzo-piano and the pitch moderato, the two subtly insert pointed respites. An instance of this is on “Popigai”, where di Domenico’s rolling core detours into tremors in response to Grimal’s spiraling peeps. And while moderated and processional tempos may be the language of choice, flutter tonguing, split tone squeaks and clarion timbres aren’t banished from the saxophonist’s exposition. Neither are key clips, rhythmic strums and hard pedal extended low- pitched soundboard crashes from the pianist. In another instance on “Tenoume”, the saxophonist holds a long note to squeeze out all its colors as she trills downwards, at the same time as the pianist’s multi-note cascades and basement pressure accompany the narrative. “Bigach” is the most adventurous track. Expressive saxophone shrills meet up with pitter patter dynamics from the piano’s highest range, as the responsive reed trills are kept pointed by piano key jabs.

Moving to the opposite side of paradigm is Leonine Aspects, a more than 55-minute concert exposition and brief encore from a concert by two committed veteran improvisers: British soprano/tenor saxophonist Evan Parker and American pianist Matthew Shipp. Beginning with paced piano chords and straight-ahead blowing from Parker, the exposition soon toughens. Spikier and more expressive reed bites are cushioned in a tapestry of multi-tonal dynamics, emphasizing textures among the keys as well as those on them. As the first sequence climaxes with Parker switching to triple tongued soprano saxophone circular breaths, several false climaxes are overcome by Shipp’s descent into a rolling bass line to contrast with Parker’s smears, slides and peeps. Moving up from soundboard and capotes reflections, the pianist advances the narrative with kinetic rushes as the saxophonist turns to double-tongued slurs and latterly tenor saxophone scoops. Shipp’s connective strokes with a sweet spinet-like tone leads to a penultimate section with both players in staccato double counterpoint climaxing in stentorian inner-piano echoes. A circular-breathed reed challenge on tenor saxophone with equivalent doits and flattement signals the ending, confirmed as Shipp spews repeated tone variations from both ends of the keyboard.

Somewhat in the middle between Down the Hill and Leonine Aspects is the first-time meeting between Americans, pianist Marilyn Crispell, who has played with Parker and young reedist Yuma Uesaka. Moving among his instruments, Uesaka’s chalumeau-register bass clarinet, clarion tones from clarinet and methodical tenor saxophone slurs provide resources to challenge the more experience Crispell and her lightning quick tinbral changes. That’s challenge not combat though. Because whether she’s articulating a lively semi-Stride note collection on “Iterations” or creating power pulsations with contrasting dynamics on “Torrent”, the idea is to bring the other player into the loop. Uesaka demonstrates his versatility in counterpoint, moving up the scale from peeps to split tone vibrations on the former to cunningly doing a quick change from heavy tenor sax slurs to growling bass clarinet smears on the latter. Both times both reach the sweet spot of congruence. Otherwise the intersections move closer to Chamber Jazz feeling with extended ballad-like changes on some tracks and straight-ahead elaborations on others. Still enough sound shards and bent notes are emphasized to keep the program fluid, accurate and innovative.

Closer in age than the previous duo, American alto saxophonist Michaël Attias and Köln-based pianist Simon Nabatov got together in Brooklyn earlier in the decade to see what mischief they could produce during this initial playing opportunity. With each experienced in situations involving innovative players throughout Europe and North America, rapport is established on the introductory “Glimpses & Tangles”. Artfully balanced between Attias’ emphasized trills and Nabatov’s patterning kinetics, the two quickly intensify the duet as Nabatov bangs against the piano wood and jabs the keys, while Attias’ blows deep into the horn’s body tube extracting deep-toned slurs in near tenor-range. Detouring into some Russian romanticism, the pianist still rolls out connective patterning that integrate reed multiphonics into the finale. From that point on the unbreakable connection is made. Inner key rumbles and the occasional melodic delicacy emanating from the piano harp strings become as much a part of the instant compositions as the saxophonist’s focused peeps, irregular vibrations and sharp reed bites. Culmination of the program mixes an improvisation titled “Languid” with Herbie Nichols’ “The Spinning Song” for a seamless 16¼ minutes of ingenuity. Impossible to tell where the improvisation ends and the composition begins, Nabatov and Attias ambulate, mixing flattement buzzes and in-and-out saxophone respiration with slow-paced key rumbles and metal objects vibrating atop the plucked and stopped piano strings. Circular-breathed reed flutters and trills meet thick two-handed keyboard pressure, which eventually leads both to slide down the scale to a distinct, emphasized pattern, which may be the Nichols head. Using connective comping behind bursts of treble melody, Nabatov joins Attias to complete the narrative with a staccato extro.

Chamber Jazz played by only two musicians may be understated and somewhat languid. But pair the right players, and sounds equal to any other program arise, as on the discs here.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Down: 1. Pneuma 2. Wabar 3, Whispers and Songs 4. Kaali 5. The Place to Be 6. Popigai 7.Sketch 8. Tenoumer 9. Down The Hill 10. Moitié D’Orange 11. Bigach 12. Voli Così

Personnel: Down: Alexandra Grimal (soprano saxophone and voice) and Giovanni di Domenico (piano)

Track Listing: Leonine: 1. Leonine Aspect #1 2. Leonine Aspect #2

Personnel: Leonine: Evan Parker (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Matthew Shipp (piano)

Track Listing: Streams: 1. Meditation 2. Iterations I 3. Streams 4.Capillarity 5. Torrent 6. Ma/Space*

Personnel: Streams: Yuma Uesaka (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Chatori Shimizu (sho)* and Marilyn Crispell (piano)

Track Listing: Brooklyn: 1. Glimpses & Tangles 2. Gowanus by Night 3. Languid/The Spinning Song 4. Glances 5. Poetic Bug Bite

Personnel: Brooklyn: Michaël Attias (alto saxophone) and Simon Nabatov (piano)