Piano/guitar duets veering between funky swing stylings and ECM impressionism.
Peter Marsh 2003
The piano/guitar duet is a rare beast in jazz, and one that imediately brings to mind the classic Bill Evans and Jim Hall sessions that produced Intermodulation and Undercurrent. It would be unfair to expect messrs Zoffer and Larrabee to match that, but at times on this unpretentious and often quite lovely CD they come close enough.
Zoffer and Larabee are very different players from Evans, Hall or indeed each other. Larrabee's guitar is straight out of the lineage of players like John Abercrombie or John Scofield; though there's the rich harmonic language of Hall's post bop approach, it's tinged with a bluesier, rockier edge. Zoffer meanwhile is a straighahead, funky pianist with a boisterous, playful touch, but capable of passages of hushed delicacy.
The opening "Talk to Me" is a fragile, crystalline piece that recalls the impressionist wanderings of Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie's Sargasso Sea. Larrabee shines here with a thoughtful, cascading improvisation that threads through Zoffer's carefully placed, wide open chords. The duo seem to work best on the ballads; "Escape Artist" is similarly resonant, while they even pull off the oft attempted 'jazzmen play the classics' trick with a reworking of Chopin's Nocturne no 12. Despite the cringeworthy title ("Chopin Noc-turned"), Zoffer's rearrangement finds new beauties in an old chestnut, though purists may disagree.
It's on the uptempo numbers that the going can get a little tough; while Zoffer's joyful "Need you So" (a distant cousin of John Scofield's "Still Warm") packs a joyful punch, sometimes the lack of a rhythm section is felt quite keenly. It's here that the diversity of the players' approaches counts against them.; Larabee sounds much less comfortable with straightahead swing, something that Zoffer excels at. The guitarists's use of occasional effects can be a bit jarring too, withwah wah and touches of distortion putting too much textural distance between guitar and piano.
Still, the two men's obvious empathy makes this a pretty enjoyable listening experience for the most part, and if Paul Bley likes them (as he apparently does), that should be enough for the likes of us.