Kenny Barron & Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation

The duet may be the most challenging form of jazz. Both musicians are on, all the time; there's no place to coast or hide. In a sense, this can be liberating. Pianists, say, can switch from melody to harmony to extended improvisation without worrying about whether the sax or trumpet will get in the way. But they'd better have something interesting to say, or the experiment in freedom will soon turn lame. Ditto for bass players: they can run scales or arpeggios for a while, but if that's all they can do, they're exposed as one-dimensional.

Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland have massive chops, and a lot to say, so their new duet album, The Art of Conversation (on the revived Impulse! label) is everything the title suggests.

Barron has played on two of my favorite duet albums—The Night and the City (with Charlie Haden), and People Time: The Complete Recordings (with Stan Getz)—and there's a reason for this: he has a lush balladic sense but also a percussive clarity; you feel that he'll never get lost or let a partner wander.

Holland is endlessly inventive. He's gone so far as to record two solo bass albums, Emerald Tears (1977) and Ones for All (1996), and they're not boring—quite a feat. He has as precise a touch on the neck as Barron has on the keyboard, which helps relieve us from missing a drummer. He's different from Haden, who, on The Night and the City, cast some contrasting shadows on Barron: the occasional passage of dissonance, swiftly and satisfyingly resolved. Holland is more into consonance (I once likened him to Mingus, if Mingus were white and had a happy childhood), but there's nothing wrong with that: he finds novel, even intriguing, ways to make everything sound on the mark.

The ten tracks are a mix of originals, with a Parker, a Monk, and a Strayhorn tossed in—the Parker and Monk a bit too frothy for my taste, the Strayhorn just right.

The engineering is by James Farber, who works his usual wonders with tone, balance, ambience, and crisp transients.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing FK.

these are 2 masters at work- outstanding recording!