Before listening to Duet, it might be best to forget everything you already know about its creators—which may be little about drummer Jeff Sipe (a founding member of the Georgia-based, genre-bending fusion band Aquarium Rescue Unit) and perhaps a bit more about saxophonist Jeff Coffin (an alumnus of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones who also replaced the deceased Leroi Moore in the Dave Matthews Band in 2008). Expecting anything resembling any of those bands, or either of these two musicians’ previous solo or session work, may result in disappointment.
With an open mind, however, this series of improvisational dialogues recorded at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina is equally rewarding and challenging. The opening “Reintroduction” sets the surprise bar high, as Coffin plays like a Middle Eastern snake charmer and Sipe achieves eerie tones by rubbing the butt end of his drum sticks across his muted cymbals. On “Mr. Lloyd and Master Higgins,” the two evoke their unpredictable title subjects (Charles and Billy, respectively) through Coffin’s saxophones and Sipe’s use of sticks, mallets and brushes.
Sipe is as much a world-percussion explorer as Billy Martin, as evidenced by his use of gongs, wind chimes and various shakers on “Concurrent Events.” All of these co-composed, stream-of-consciousness tracks flow outward without breaks in-between, but it’s Coffin’s solo compositions that go even further out. On “Smiling Faces,” he salutes Rahsaan Roland Kirk through his simultaneous blasts on multiple saxophones; mimics train horns on “Should I Stand”; and uses flutes and whistles to suit the evocative title of “First Light (Reprise).” Not to be outdone by the otherworldly wind player, Sipe’s closing “Koty Blue” finds the often-volcanic drummer playing pensive hand-drum patterns to accompany Coffin’s bluesy musings.