Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen: We Couldn’t Agree More

The art of intelligent conversation requires intelligent listening, as well as a certain give and take. What we have here is precisely that: unrehearsed, non-arranged, spontaneous conversation between a piano and a soprano sax, or rather, between the fertile minds of Bill Anschell and Brent Jensen. They are in such command of their respective instruments that, instinctively, at a millisecond’s notice, they can duplicate each other’s phrases and harmonic detours; anticipate changes in tempo or dynamics; and know when and how to end a track. This is more than chemistry; it’s ESP: a level of expertise that harkens back to Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden; Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons; Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims; or Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Granted, the aforementioned were surrounded by other players, but their contrapuntal weaving called for the reflexive listening found in this CD.

“I’m Old Fashioned” finds Anschell using left hand only for the first chorus, and then some, but it’s not necessarily confined to walking as he focusses mostly on counter-melody. “The People Versus Miss Jones” is more complex as both avoid the melody of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” with Jensen hinting at melodic fragments and Anschell creating an arpeggiated universe that retains the “Jones” changes. About halfway through “You and the Night and the Music,” Anschell begins to wrap up a solo that sounds like he has separate motors in each hand playing innocent quarter notes. When Jensen duplicates their rhythm, both turn it into triplets simultaneously.

A. & J. stay in the treble for “What Is This Thing Called Love” and convert it into a study in rhapsodic, fragmented swing. Ever hear of “You Aren’t All That?” The bop motif used as an intro gives it away as they launch into “All The Things You are.” They improvise on those familiar cycle-5 changes and since they’re based on scales of those changes, the Kern melody jumps out. They provide two versions of Miles Davis’ “Solar” (eight tracks apart): the first is a rubato treatment of the ballad; the second a bright tempo exploration in the duo’s typical counterpoint. “Sunny Side of the Street” shows they can really go their own way: whenever Jensen starts to go “out,” Anschell decides to play a muscular stride. Balance is eventually restored.

In its higher register, Jensen’s soprano sounds somewhat like Paul Desmond’s alto. No matter where Anschell plays on the keyboard, he sounds like no other pianist. Theirs is a superb duo.