Secret Keeper : Super Eight

On Stephan Crump’s last effort for Intakt, he and alto saxophonist Steve Lehman took a series of spontaneous duets and edited them into two extended pieces, resulting in the album Kaleidoscope and Collage. It was an intriguing concept in which the worlds of improvisation and composition overlapped. The bassist’s meeting with guitarist Mary Halvorson begins in a similar manner, but this time brevity is key. Four tracks have running times of less than a minute, and of the remaining cuts, most last as long as an average pop song. Yet the duo, now identified as Secret Keeper, sequences the songs into three sections, imposing a structure on what began as a way to explore their musical empathy.

The six-part Marging section features most of the brief pieces. Although these tracks often sound like a series of introductions, “Winds Me to Pieces” could also have been a composed, call-and-response sketch. The four tracks grouped under Alight use more forward motion, which continues through the rest of the album. Halvorson, here and throughout most of the disc, cleverly avoids locking into anything resembling a riff. “Escapade” sounds like a singer-songwriter introduction, only to fade out as she changes her mind and begins again.

This track also closes with what sound like mutations of classic jazz guitar chords. Crump (best known as a member of the Vijay Iyer Trio) deftly alternates the roles of low-end support and soloist, switching from bowed textures to simple note patterns that do a great deal to set the mood. Super Eight may not be an easy listen, in part because the players take their time and never lapse into anything predictable. But if you hear where their conversations begin and continue to follow them closely, the journey is rewarding.