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Joel Forrester/Phillip Johnston: Live at the Hillside Club

Pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston have been playing together for 35 years, most famously as the leaders of the Microscopic Septet. The span of their partnership shows. This recent duo album, recorded in November 2010 at a gig in Berkeley, Calif., is a masterpiece of intimacy, empathy and synergy.

Seven of the dozen tunes are Forrester’s, one (“Splat,” a solo for soprano sax) is Johnston’s, and the remaining four are Thelonious Monk’s. (These guys have long loved Monk; Microscopic Septet’s 2010 release was an all-Monk outing.) The set list is an à la carte menu of moods and modes. Forrester channels James P. Johnson in the freight train blues of “Bunny Boy,” turns introspective on the melancholy “Your Little Dog,” and evokes George Winston playing Vince Guaraldi on “Second Nature,” a solo piece in 11/8 with a simple melodic structure. Johnston is a steady hand and voice throughout, rarely content just to state the theme but never veering so far from it that less adventurous listeners may take offense.

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