Dissonant Characters

Ellery Eskelin

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Dissonant Characters Review

by Thom Jurek

Given Han Bennink's reputation and no-nonsense attitude when it comes to improvising in a duet situation, most of his performances with American musicians lacked something. It's easy to see now what that something was: the full technical and/or soulful presence of the other player. In this duet with New Yorker Ellery Eskelin, Bennink has found as formidable an opponent in an American as he did in Sonny Rollins some years back. Over the course of ten improvisations, Eskelin and Bennink dig deeply into their basic-level knowledge about jazz and bring to the cutting room, where they slip around and chase each other through rhythmic, harmonic, and timbral rabbit holes. The title track, which serves in a way as a backdrop, or hinge, for the entire proceeding is a plethora of contradictions: consonance and dissonance, inside versus outside, to swing or not to swing, to play the blues or blow as freely as possible, and how often to shift gears. Bennink's slickness as a drummer makes him a huge obstacle for some as a duet partner because he never looks to do the same thing twice, and goes far out of his way to avoid any traps that might hem him in. Eskelin grew up and learned to swing first and then improvise. He has a deft sense of timing for a saxophonist. His own playing, whether in screeching arpeggios in a free mode ("Incontrario") or shifting gears and engaging the more pastoral side of melodic improvisation that roots itself in the blues ("Alias"), is rubbery, mutable, bendable, which makes him the perfect "singing" voice for Bennink -- witness this on the Monk contributions ("Sights Unseen/Brilliant Corners" and "Let's Cool One"). This is a lighthearted disc with heavy-duty jams on it. The playing is among Eskelin's finest -- which is saying a lot -- and is easily the finest of the recorded duets between Bennink and the Americans. A necessary addition to the duet library, or the fans of either man; this is one hot, smoking, gorgeous platter.

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