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Michael and Peter Formanek: Dyads (Out of Your Head)

Review of the first album by a notable father-and-son duo

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Cover of Michael and Peter Formanek album Dyads
Cover of Michael and Peter Formanek album Dyads

Even though he’s only in his mid-twenties, reedman Peter Formanek has had some illustrious highlights in his career. For instance, to celebrate his 18th birthday, he shared a stage with saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Jacob Sacks, and drummer Jim Black. This is in part because his father—the other musician onstage that day—is bassist Michael Formanek. It was commonplace for the younger Formanek to be in the company of distinguished musicians jamming at his home, and he and his dad have been playing duets since before he was in school.

Michael Formanek has been having a breakout decade or so. He helms or co-leads several of the most affecting small groups working today: the Elusion Quartet, the Very Practical Trio, and Thumbscrew. His big band, Ensemble Kolossus, released The Distance (ECM) in 2016, one of the best large-ensemble recordings of the past 10 years. All these projects spotlight his formidable composing. 

Thus, Dyads is far more than a vanity project or jazz nepotism. The duo toured in 2019 and booked studio time afterward. Peter Formanek, who plays tenor saxophone and clarinet here, hasn’t fully escaped the shadow of his influences—echoes of Berne, Marty Ehrlich, and Don Byron pop up occasionally—but it’s easy to hear his own distinctive voice emerging too. The recording has a cozy feel with well-structured, limber songs and invigorating dialogue between the two men. They save the best for last: a new take on “That Was Then,” a standout on the Elusion Quartet’s 2018 recording Time Like This (Intakt). The version here is leaner and more introspective, but it still makes a stellar argument for the track as an era-defining standard.