Hakon Kornstad, Havard Wiik: Eight Tunes We Like

The matter-of-fact title reflects the honest, workmanlike nature of this music. What Hakon Kornstad (tenor saxophone) and Havard Wiik (piano) do with the eight tunes they like is encounter them thoughtfully, with minds open to possibility; and with the freedom and space that a two-piece ensemble provides, they prod the songs for new insights.

Until now the most affecting version of Carla Bley’s “Jesus Maria” was Gary Burton’s solo vibraphone meditation from the 1976 ECM album Dreams So Real. Kornstad and Wiik are more open with it, and harder, and even more personal. “The Peacocks” is expansive yet respects (no, loves) Jimmy Rowles’ greatest song. They create hovering mystery from Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York.” Only the first-ever jazz treatment of Webern’s “Op. 7-Sehr Langsam” sounds like they are trying too hard.

Eight Tunes We Like moves deliberately but never drags because it always sounds intelligently conceived yet spontaneously discovered, moment by moment. Kornstad and Wiik, young musicians from Norway, succeed where more famous saxophonists and piano players have often failed. They have created a duo album that is complete in its creative realization, with no sense of missing instruments.

Jan Erik Kongshaug engineered Eight Tunes We Like, and the sound has his signature lucidity.