Percussion Duets is a collection of rhythm exchanges between Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin & Wood) and jazz veteran G. Calvin Weston (Ornette Coleman, James Blood Ulmer, the Lounge Lizards). Setting up shop in an empty film studio in New York, each player brought his own kit along with a number of other percussion instruments. Not surprisingly, given the background of the two players, the source material ranges from fiery jazz and skeletal funk to minimalist hip-hop and a number of spaces in between. At times, a structure is established and little more, with the percussionists dropping an idea hardly a minute in. The two collaborations with MM&W's John Medeski, on the other hand, are little more than brief exercises in texture. Such fragments are balanced by more extended workouts. In the album's opening seconds, a dizzying swirl of mallet instruments rushes in, cleansing the listener's aural palette. Beginning as a slice of sparse, loping funk, the two drummers do what they do best on "Top-Side City," unleashing miniature rhythm explosions from their kits. Such eruptions shake the foundations of the music but never crush them. Unless, of course, they dispense with the foundation altogether, as they do on "Migration," an escalating dialogue of rumbling toms, pounding kick drums, chattering hi-hats, and ride cymbal accents. It recalls the sort of sound Rashied Ali used to send John Coltrane soaring on Interstellar Space. For the most part, however, composition and improvisation keep each other in check. In the end, while the underlying material is strong, it's the sound of two musicians responding to each other that makes Percussion Duets so enjoyable.
AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush