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Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash: Duologue

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Duo albums featuring sax and drums aren’t unheard of, but earlier pairings-John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, Max Roach on one each with Anthony Braxton and Archie Shepp, David Murray and Kahil El’Zabar, to name a few-have usually leaned toward the avant-garde. Duologue, the new disc from talented veterans Steve Wilson (alto saxophone) and Lewis Nash (drums), upends that pattern by remaining relatively earthbound while taking a thoroughly modern stroll through a handful of high points in jazz-composition history.

Wilson offers three originals. His “Black Gold” is the freest tune on the album, inspiring Nash’s most forceful drumming as it celebrates the culture of Pittsburgh (where these performances were recorded live) and its three pro sports franchises. “Row Twelve” is just over two minutes of Wilson unaccompanied, abstract toward the front and back and bluesy in the middle. “RCJG” sounds like Wilson’s sax is quoting Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” in spots, and is followed immediately by “Monk Medley Part 1 (Ask Me Now, Evidence)”; “Bright Mississippi” and “Four in One” come up later as “Monk Medley Part 2.”

The disc opens with rich interpretations of two Ellington-associated classics, “Caravan” and “The Mooche.” Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is another prebop gem shown to have staying power, and Wilson’s spin on it may put some in mind of Eric Dolphy’s version. Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” Ornette Coleman’s “Happy House” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You” round out the dance card. Wilson is fleet and inventive throughout, and Nash’s drumming generally emphasizes subtlety over power. As a duo their brand of derring-do may be too controlled and historically minded to be considered adventurous, but this album is a very hip, loving tribute to jazz modernity.

Originally Published