The jazz musicians I know say that improvisatory duet playing is intensely difficult, sometimes highly rewarding. For a duet to work, it needs a great deal of intuitive cooperation, players anticipating each other’s thought patterns. But the duo that is too congenial runs the risk of being tamely polite. Alphonse and Gaston are ideal pals, but some friendly jousting is at the heart of jazz. However, if players go their own heedless, self-absorbed ways, collisions are a sure thing. Each of the two players must be attuned not only to what is being played, but what might be played, what might be just around the corner.
The video clips of pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block (here on tenor sax and clarinet) here will show that the title I’ve chosen for this posting is enthusiastic but wholly justified. They listen; they take chances; their technical brilliance is matched only by their emotional depth, their timeless swing.
Flip and I went to Smalls on West Tenth Street about ten days ago for one of Ehud’s Thursday night duo gigs. These gigs last only an hour, but they offer more resonant jazz than many other sessions that go on much longer. Ehud’s partner was the wonderfully soulful Dan Block. Here they work their eager way through Vincet Youmans’ HALLELUJAH! (My sentiments exactly, with the shades of Tatum and Hawkins standing in the wings, smiling sagely.)
Here they are on a haunting melody, one of those that you might begin to hum without knowing its name or the lyrics. AUTUMN NOCTURNE, music by Josef Myrow, was a favorite of Sonny Rollins, Claude Thornhill, Art Farmer, and many others, although it never became a popular or jazz standard. (Myrow, incidentally, wrote many more forgettable songs — “Keep Cool, Fool” suggests the kind of evanescent pop ditty he leaned towards — although we know him better for YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG.)
A more familiar jazz standard, Fats Waller’s I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, is next — with the memorable verse.
And this mini-program concludes with two more contemporary jazz standards from another stride pianist, Thelonious Monk. (Monk scholars will remember that when he was corralled into a Down Beat “Blindfold Test” and one of his own records was played for him, he said, “That sounds like James P. Johnson.”) Dan and Ehud, comfortable playing all sorts of music, treat us to Monk’s lyrical RUBY, MY DEAR.
Finally, here’s the duo’s propulsive OFF MINOR.
This coming Thursday, December 4, Ehud will be improvising alongside his great friend, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, someone I’ve celebrated in this blog. I’ll be there!