Dawn Clement, extroverted pianist and introverted vocalist, has been embedded in the Seattle jazz scene for 20 years. Tandem, her fifth recording as a leader, is the kind of necessarily discontinuous project that often doesn’t work as an album. Clement plays nine duets with five very different musicians, all based in Seattle except A-list New York drummer Matt Wilson. The tunes are also diverse: old standards, originals, a Monk, a Lennie Tristano contrafact on “All the Things You Are,” a free improvisation, a tune from the film Mary Poppins. But Tandem is held together by the appeal of Clement’s vivid, upbeat musical personality, and by the anticipation, track to track, of what she’ll come up with next.
Her “Blues for Wayne” (dedicated to Wayne Horvitz of Seattle, formerly of downtown Manhattan) is a set of witty, fragmented, clamorous trade-offs with trombonist Julian Priester (icon of the Seattle scene since 1979, formerly of Blue Note and Riverside). In 2017, at Seattle’s annual Earshot festival, Clement headlined a Monk tribute; here, on “Bemsha Swing,” abetted by Wilson’s deadpan clattering, she channels the steely Thelonious touch, then spills her own solo. “Ablution,” with alto saxophonist Mark Taylor, is a rigorous three-minute treatise on Tristano’s contrapuntal polyphony. On “I Think of You,” a sweet lost song by Jack Elliott, Clement and Johnaye Kendrick blend their voices in a quiet rapture of memory and harmony. Without piano, Clement sings and scats on “My Ideal” in the stimulating company of Michael Glynn’s teetering, plunging bass.
Clement’s vocal skills are not on a level with her piano chops. But on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” the only tune she takes alone, her small, clear, come-hither soprano reminds you of Blossom Dearie. It casts a spell.