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McCormack & Yarde Duo Places and Other Spaces Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

The dazzling virtuosos tackle the ongoing tradition of the saxophone/piano dialogue.

Martin Longley 2011

Both of these players are now long-established on the London jazz scene, having graduated from a young upstart state into what might now even be termed the medium-aged establishment. Perhaps the pianist Andrew McCormack has grown more of a reputation as a bandleader, whilst reedsman Jason Yarde has virtually sacrificed open ego display due to his grand achievements as a musical director, composer and arranger for all manner of ambitious large-scale projects.

This is all beside the point, now that this intimate duo recording has arrived, a sequel to their first pairing in 2007. There’s a complete balance of power in the meeting, as these dazzling virtuosos tackle the ongoing tradition of the saxophone/piano dialogue.

The pair teeters on the fine cusp between mainstream post-bebop and spiky free improvisation. All of their originals are loaded with melody, but their approach is open to high-wire displays and extreme excursions away from the core themes. The pair mostly pens their pieces separately, but there are also a couple of co-written tunes.

On the opening D-Town, McCormack is percussively funky as Yarde unspools his copiously quavering lines, deftly dancing with burred and smeared edges. Yarde often favours the soprano saxophone, and when he’s blowing alto he’s flying in its highest range. There are many points where the pair’s close rhythmic coupling is phenomenal. Whether hyper-rehearsed or marvellously intuitive, timing is paramount.

There are calmer compositions, imbued with classical gestures, but it’s the rippling speedsters that best display the duo’s abilities. Yarde’s Hill Walking on the Tyneside is particularly inventive, like a filmic big band arrangement compressed for a twosome. Yarde eventually disappears into the far corner of the room, making the listener aware of the high ambient content of this recording.

The final tune is an old Gershwin standard, Embraceable You, a soft rumination, and a thorough probing of its classic melody. Contemplating possible forebears, the work of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron springs forth, but perhaps even more so, the sprightly head-dancing of Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston. McCormack and Yarde boldly continue the lineage of extremely closely twinned and twined improvisations, compellingly performed.

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