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Marc Copland/Greg Osby: Round and Round

There can be no middle ground when it comes to the duo format; it either succeeds eloquently or fails miserably. With Marc Copland and Greg Osby-piano and alto sax, respectively-the synergy is so all-embracing, they seem to be joined at the hip. (Extremely hip.) Not to imply that there’s an overload of unison. On the contrary: usually within a specific framework, scale or mode, or plain old-fashioned changes, they go their separate ways, yet they remain tethered. And therein lies the beauty of Round and Round.

Throughout the five Copland originals, three by Osby and one standard, there are only fleeting moments of formal solo statements. Even when the focus is obviously on the piano, Osby is still exploring, usually by contributing back-up comments with his diaphanous comping. His tone, often sotto voce, is at times reminiscent of Paul Desmond-but only in timbre; Osby’s ideas are light years beyond.

Copland’s piano forays are thoughtfully sculptured, and he often flirts with atonality. As for his comping, he will play flurries or counterlines, as he does on “Copious,” resort to an ostinato figure to maintain the momentum, as heard on “Round She Goes,” or suspend rhythm altogether and simply anticipate Osby, as on “Mentor’s Praise.” “The Wizard” contains the duo’s emotional peaks, and their control of dynamics is quite remarkable. The latter cut, plus “Balloonman” and “Deed-Lee-Yah”-which by comparison is a throwaway-offer their only serious nods to conventional unison heads.

After all that intellectualism, the gorgeously reharmonized “Easy Living” must be easy playing.

Originally Published