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Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci: Conversations Vol. 2 (577)

A review of the second collection from the pianist and tenor saxophonist

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Cooler-Moore & Stephen Gauci: Conversations Vol. 2
The cover of Conversations Vol. 2 by Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci

The two volumes of Conversations, a bracing set of duo improvisations by pianist Cooper-Moore and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci, represent the culmination of a seven-month residency featuring weekly performances by the pair at a Brooklyn gallery space. Vol. 2 picks up where its predecessor (recorded at the same 2019 session) left off, with a collection of seven numbered pieces.

The first two tracks are the most concise, neither reaching the three-minute mark. “Improvisation Seven” begins with Cooper-Moore hammering atmospheric chords, letting the resonance of the piano bloom into the surrounding silence. He quickly settles into an insistent pulse that he maintains, with minimalist modulations, for the duration of the piece, stonewalling Gauci’s impassioned, probing tenor. On the even briefer “Improvisation Eight,” the pianist launches an unrelenting tangle of Cecil Taylor-like clusters; after a minute Gauci leaps in and matches his partner’s tumultuous rumble.

After the ferocity of that outburst, “Improvisation Nine” provides relief, gradually unfolding as the album’s most stunning piece. A perpetually undersung pianist who seems to play with the music’s entire history at his fingertips, Cooper-Moore showcases his deep lyricism here, with searching melodies gilded by lush harmonies. The younger saxophonist adds achingly discordant sax lines, as if struggling to find his footing amid the beauty. An air of mystery is maintained for three minutes before Cooper-Moore falls silent with an abrupt thud; Gauci responds with a sudden squall, prompting violent hammering from the low end of the keyboard.

This mix of moods continues for the remainder of the outing; even as the improvs get longer, focus and precision are retained. Cooper-Moore settles into the role of a walking bass, with detours into stride, on “Improvisation Eleven,” while the two tumble acrobatically throughout “Improvisation Twelve,” the album’s longest piece. If these are to be thought of as conversations, they never meander off topic as each speaker efficiently and eloquently makes his points.

Learn more about Conversations Vol. 2 on Amazon & Apple Music!

Shaun Brady

Shaun Brady is a Philadelphia-based journalist who covers jazz along with an eclectic array of arts, culture, and travel. Brady contributes regularly to the Philadelphia Inquirer and JazzTimes and Jazziz magazines, with subjects ranging from legendary artists to underground experimentalists. His byline has appeared in DownBeat, Metro, NPR Music, and The A.V. Club, among other outlets. He studied filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago and continues to spend too much time in the dark.