Two Is One

Howard Riley

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Two Is One Review

by Fran├žois Couture

Howard Riley had experimented with the idea of overdubbed free improvisation in the '70s. With Two Is One, he comes back to it in full force. The album consists of ten short pieces (four to seven minutes). For each one, Riley first recorded a "self-sufficient" solo improvisation, then immediately recorded himself in duet with the playback. The pianos are panned hard left and hard right. The resulting impression is of a true piano duet, especially if you listen with headphones. The title piece illustrates how thin is the line between free improvisation, structured improvisation, and composition: here, Riley is closely following himself, producing a very tight dialogue that ends in unison. Rather tender, "Empathy" provides another highlight. More chaotic and frantic is "Doubling," showcasing the man's virtuosity. "Osoiretsim" provides a pause halfway through the set, with a tribute to Thelonious Monk (the title is of course "Misterioso" spelled backwards). Riley always had a jazzy side -- it also resurfaces in "Unique" -- and the dual piano setting allows him to expand on his personal interpretation of the tune. In "With Strings," the pianist deliberately takes different paths, playing the keys for one track and the strings on the other. Even when he is playing free, Riley always develops a certain level of melodicism ("After the Storm" is an interesting case of an instant ballad), which always makes his solo albums pleasurable. This one is no exception.

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