Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford

(Palmetto Records)

Review by Brad Walseth

Duet albums are often tricky due to the challenge of keeping the music varied and interesting, but for the talented duo of alto sax/clarinet player Marty Ehrlich and pianist Myra Melford, the results are highly satisfying. Having recorded before and been playing together for years, the two artists fit together so comfortably that fears of monotony prove utterly groundless.

Opener, "Hymn" features Ehrlich's gloriously bluesy sax and Melford's gospel-infused pianism trading the spotlight in an enjoyable romp. "A Generation Comes and Another Goes" starts with Melford's waves of classical-flavored fluid lines of shimmering improvisation before Ehrlich comes in with long drifting tones the two reflecting each other like clouds reflected in rippling water.

On "I See A Horizon," Ehrlich switches to clarinet. The music moves from a flowing sunny key to a minor rhythmic counter-theme, but for two musicians deeply schooled in the avant garde, the music is surprisingly melodic throughout. Whereas Ehrlich twists and bends in angular contortions, Melford's shifting piano maintains solid ground; it is a stellar combination.

"For Leroy" is a tribute to free jazz pioneer, violinist Leroy Jenkins who both artists worked with, and is a touching tribute with a touch of Big Easy funeral in the sweetly sad clarinet. "Up Do" is short, quirky, but enjoyable take on a Robin Holcomb song, while "Night" is beautiful and haunting with almost urban jazz tones on the piano underneath.

The interplay reaches a high point on "Blue Dehli" which jangles along breathlessly while seeming to hint at both musicians' interest in Eastern music. Andrew Hill's "Images of Time" is giving a loving treatment and again one is amazed that even though there are only two players the music seems so full. The album ends with another, quieter version of "Hymn,"a song the duo have been playing for many years.

Fans of modern jazz piano should be aware of Melford's genius for improvisation already, and she is in top form here. Ehrlich is a revelation as well and well-deserving of wider recognition outside the avant garde fold, but it is the stellar and sympathetic musical relationship between the two that truly makes this recording special.

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