Kirk Lightsey & Harold Danko: Shorter by Two: The Music of Wayne Shorter Played on Two Pianos (Sunnyside)

Review of reissue of album from two pianists paying tribute to music of Wayne Shorter

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Cover of Kirk Lightsey & Harold Danko Shorter by Two album

Even the conscientious jazz collector might have missed Shorter by Two upon its original 1984 release, performed as it was by Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko, two of the most underrated pianists in jazz then and now. But 33 years later, Wayne Shorter having assumed elder statesmanship and acclaim as jazz’s greatest living composer, the music therein has greater prestige even as its players continue to get shortchanged.

Maybe Sunnyside’s remaster of Shorter by Two can help fix that. Shorter’s tunes are a powerful lure, but once taken in it’s hard to resist Lightsey and Danko’s playing on, for example, “Dance Cadaverous,” where Lightsey—probably; the pianists are centered in the mix—articulates the melody in charming twinkles against Danko’s lithe ballet-stepping comp in a Debussy-like harmony. Or “Pinocchio,” in which the pianists move together at a gregarious pace that, but for the intermittency of its basslines, could have been a stride-piano cutting contest. (“Marie Antoinette” is slower, but more stride-ish still.)

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Lightsey and Danko reharmonize Shorter’s compositions—the very idea is anathema. But they do find new ways to plumb the harmonic richness. They don’t attempt to recreate Herbie Hancock’s dense dissonances from Shorter’s 1967 recording of “El Gaucho”; in filtering them out, though, the duo discovers the beautiful lushness underneath. “Ana Maria” is just the opposite: Both pianists bring forth new harmonic layers (and thicken them by strumming the piano strings like an autoharp), resulting somehow in both somberness and opulence. Sunnyside’s remaster is a gift: Shorter by Two is an unsung masterpiece that has been begging for rediscovery.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Shorter by Two: The Music of Wayne Shorter Played on Two Pianos by Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko on iTunes.