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Paul Murphy & Larry Willis: Foundations

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Drummer Paul Murphy and pianist Larry Willis together create music that is quite simply, hefty. Their recording, Foundations, testifies to their persistence in conveying significant improvised, though structured, messages through their musical language. The opening piano tremolos and bongo fluttering are gripping. They are repeated in the first and title track midst a relaxed lyricism that the piano unfolds. Throughout the album, a consistent pattern ensues of earthy juxtaposed to light, though never carefree, passages.

The tempos are generally quick. They seem to slow exclusively in the codas, with the exception of “Dance Pointe,” where Willis unwinds the melody gracefully. Willis’ strength manifests in the way he shifts continually in and out of melodic phrasings, sometimes dissonantly, but utilizing the entire keyboard. He artfully balances his use of chords and fingered abstractions. “Paean” is an extraordinary example of a synchronized, double handed thematic development.

The drums establish themselves equally with the piano. In fact, the percussiveness of Murphy’s drumming counteracts and enriches the piano sound so fully that its absence would swipe away the music’s substance. Murphy has a predilection for an unbroken line. His fast-paced cymbal run intros in “Khafre” and “Mr LB” are crucial to perceiving his style. “Preter” exposes how he transfers this playing method to the skins. Even when he changes the drumming course to adjust coloration, from the snare to the cymbal to the bongo, he does it with one gesture. He doesn’t skip a beat.

Neither instrumentalist skips a beat. The pair’s interaction is tight, unafraid and thoroughly conscious. For music is their calling; it expresses their experience of life. And if there is any question, the final “Equinox” dashes all doubt; for as day and night can equalize, so can a human being and his art.

Originally Published