Vijay Iyer/Craig Taborn

The Transitory Poems
ECM 2644

Ran Blake/Claire Ritter

Eclipse Orange

Zoning Recordings ZR 1013

Working out original duo-piano strategies are two sets of American improvisers, one of veterans and one made of up of young veterans. Both have chosen to record their creations in concert, but that’s where the parallels stop. Young veterans Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn concentrate on lengthy duets that emphasize compositions, most of which are designed as homage to older piano heroes. Ran Blake and Claire Ritter on the other hand mix solos and duo interpretations plus tracks where Ritter plays with alto saxophonist Kent O'Doherty. Yet the 20 tracks on Eclipse Orange in total time out at 20 fewer minutes than the eight that make up The Transitory Poems.

As with players on many live recordings both Iyer/Taborn and Blake/Ritter become more comfortable as the performances evolve. Overall the outcomes are notable if not crucial, likely because the younger players don’t upset keyboard symmetry enough to stretch themselves far enough into exploratory corners; whereas by mixing standards and originals, plus keeping the majority of performances at around the two minute mark, Blake/Ritter close off any paths to penetrating interpretations

Known as the doyen of the so-called Third Stream Jazz, Blake/ taught at the New England Conservatory for decades and influenced multiple musicians, including now Charlotte, N.C.-based Ritter, who has previously recorded a dozen or so discs. Notable on Eclipse Orange is the individuality of teacher and student as each plays solo. Ritter, for instance, on the medley entitled “Claire Ritter Story” uses modulations and movements to provide an impressionistic cast to her mainstream-styled musings. More distinctive even on a snippet like “Improvisation on Selma” and the extended “Short Life of Barbara Monk”, Blake’s diminutive clumping voicing relates to no one else’s, while on the latter tune he not only sweeps and slithers it forward in a unique fashion, but before settling on metronomic syncopation makes a subtle illusion to Thelonious Monk’s style.

Together Ritter and Blake appear overly polite at first, only loosening up to propel the angular syncopation of “Blue Monk” during the first half of the program. Latterly they strive to push formalism to one side, mixing keyboard sweeps and single note elaborations on “In Between” and they conclude the disc with “Integrity”, a tune which comes across as hotter and faster than it should be; and injects Ragtime touches into its basic Swing pulse. More noteworthy is the reimaging of “Over the Rainbow”, where moderated impressionism is spun out with wide-spaced emphasis and where the familiar theme fleetingly appears, but then seems to end before putting down roots. The characterize of Blake’s “Breakthrough” also impresses, with an interpretation which slowly corrodes ornate cross pulses and arpeggios to reveal an intense balladic heart

Taborn and Iyer, who first started playing together as part of a Roscoe Mitchell ensemble more than 15 years ago, are also known for leading their own bands and affiliations with players ranging from Tyshawn Sorey to Gerald Cleaver. In this situation, recorded at a Budapest concert hall, they appear to be tempering their interpretations with chamber music-styled formality, and for instance on the introductory “Life Line (Seven Tensions”, don’t really toughen the interpretation to swinging approximations until mid-way through and even then diminish it into tiny key clips by the finale. While “Clear Monolith” adds a low-pitch ostinato from one and animated vibrations from the other, working its way to memorable high-frequency chording and free-flowing vibrations, their most memorable work come on compositions dedicated to pianistic influences.

“Clear Monolith” for example, dedicated to Muhal Richard Arams, detonates with thudding freedom due to multi-finger pressure that sweeps the melody along the dual keyboards, reaching a zenith of hard syncopation, as passing chords and trebly inferences color the narrative. Although hard smacks and wavering lines are emphasized from both, the final section cools down via single note and inner piano reverberations. “Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuka Dances” which blends two originals with the final variation on Geri Allen’s composition, actually does so seamlessly. Darkened low-pitched voicing are subtly joined by swirling note cascades and octave jumps that reach a crescendo of emphasized pulses with player-piano-like intensity. As Taborn and Iyer stitch together a clattering metronomic design, filled with runs and rebounds, dual narratives cross and re-cross one another at moderating speeds so that by the finale harder voicing and a telescoped groove smoothes down the interpretation into repeated dexterous cadenzas.

Dual piano recitals are tricky. Yet both duos here create distinct strategies to overcome keyboard sound fatigue: Ritter-Blake with another associates interspaced solos and brief interactions and Taborn-Iyer with salutes and extended intensity. Each of the CDs is arresting at points and meaningful for comparison. But in complete honesty every one of the four alone has produced more enduring sessions elsewhere.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Transitory: 1. Life Line (Seven Tensions) 2. Sensorium 3. Kairòs 4. S.H.A.R.D.S. 5. Shakedown 6. Clear Monolith 7. Luminous Brew 8. Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuka Dances

Personnel: Transitory: Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn (pianos)

Track Listing: Eclipse: 1. Claire Ritter Story 2. Blue Monk 3. Eclipse Orange 4. Backbone 5. Short Life of Barbara Monk 6. I Mean You 7. In Between 8. Blue Grits* 9. Emerald & the Breeze* 10. High Top Sneakers 11. Summertime* 12. Waltzing the Splendor 13. Improvisation on Selma 14 Karma Waltz 15. Breakthru 16. Cool Digs* 17. There's Been a Change 18. Brazil Medley* 19. Over The Rainbow 20, Integrity

Personnel: Eclipse: Claire Ritter and Ran Blake (pianos) and Kent O'Doherty (alto saxophone*)