Larry Willis

The Powers of Two

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The Powers of Two Review

by Alex Henderson

Over the years, Larry Willis has inspired a variety of comparisons -- sometimes McCoy Tyner, Kenny Barron, or Mulgrew Miller (on his straight-ahead post-bop); sometimes Cecil Taylor (on the avant-garde free jazz of his youth); and sometimes Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea (on his fusion recordings of the '70s). The veteran pianist isn't a huge name in the jazz world, but those who have closely followed Willis' career know that he is a flexible, broad-minded player who can handle a variety of musical situations. Recorded in August 2002, The Powers of Two finds a 61-year-old Willis performing a series of intimate duets with drummer Paul Murphy. The two of them enjoy a consistently strong rapport on this CD, which favors an inside/outside approach that is somewhere between Tyner's post-bop and Taylor's free jazz. The Powers of Two isn't as left-of-center as a typical Taylor album; this release is mildly avant-garde, whereas Taylor's boldly uncompromising work is radically avant-garde. And while Taylor's playing can be confrontational and in-your-face, The Powers of Two is more reflective than anything. But no one will mistake The Powers of Two for an album of Tin Pan Alley standards; Willis' encounter with Murphy is more inside than outside, but the outside element is definitely there. For all its abstraction and spontaneity, The Powers of Two never comes across as aimless or mindlessly chaotic; Willis' solos have a sense of sense of purpose and sound like they were meant to happen. The Powers of Two isn't the most essential album that Willis has recorded for Mapleshade; nonetheless, it is a solid and engaging demonstration of the pianist's ability to handle both the inside and the outside.

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