Howard Riley

One to One

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This duet of pianist Howard Riley and saxophonist Elton Dean is a Brit jazz fan's dream come true. Here the pair improvises on a number of cuts and also takes on such difficult nuggets as Bill Evans' "Turn out the Stars" and "Darn That Dream" and Coltrane's "Crescent." Recorded in 1993 at The London Jazz Festival (and it sounds like a live recording to be fair), this duo, who has been actively working together since the 1970s, has never played more instinctively or together than they did here. On the Evans tune, Riley moves into the pianist/composer's open-ended obbligato phrasing, turning the harmonics into an extended, droning series of augmented sevenths, and Dean works the melody for its hidden arpeggios and nuances, finding the seam in time to allow Riley to flourish in the middle eight. On "Shared Confidences" the pair moves in alternate scalar intervals, timed through 6/8 and even 9/8, taking harmonic interpolations and achieving a kind of striated, harmonic chromaticism that excludes anything in a major key. And then there's the Coltrane. And Dean is to be commended for playing out the extremely long lines, breath extension, and circular techniques Coltrane used to signify the tune -- especially in later years. Riley never attempts to imitate McCoy Tyner; instead he opts for short, choppy ostinato phrases inside his chords, carving out enough space for Dean to take the melody and solo and retrace its steps harmonically before going off on his own and entering the slow blues of its body with elegance and grace. There are no weak moments here, as the pair rips through one tune after another with energy, aplomb, and joy. This is a nutty little angular concert in which the participants came to play their butts off -- and did.

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