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19 April 2017

Hampton Hawes & Martial Solal - 'Key For Two' (Affinity)

Solal isn't a well-known name outside of France, but he's done a lot of film soundtrack composition, including Godard's Breathless. This record pairs him in the studio in Paris, 1969, with legend/tragedy Hawes, for a two piano collaboration which sadly fails to utilise the power of those instruments together. Large parts of the record are given over to solos, and when they play together, they mostly stay out of each other's way. The opening and closing tracks are 'Key for Two' and 'Three for Two', composed by Hawes and Solal respectively, and they're not only the only original compositions on the record but the only time where the two really go at it. The middle of the record is given over to standards and covers, all of which float by in a pleasant bop manner but usually showcasing just one pianist at a time. I can't tell who is who and the all-star rhythm section of Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke largely function as session musicians. I mean, it's a competent bop quartet,  but for the most part this sounds like public domain jazz to use in a movie. There are some high points, mostly when the rhythm section drops out. This version of 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most' is light and tender, almost fragile; the similarly unaccompanied 'Godchild' has some real spirit, as the two pianos dance around each other, teasing furtively. Michelot and Clarke really get cooking on 'The Theme', but that's about the most pyrotechnics on display. There's a real fear of dissonance here, and the liner notes even make a point of stating how carefully rehearsed these sessions were. I don't demand chaos or discord, but I want to hear a vision, and I don't think either pianist here puts forth anything particularly distinct. The two originals are really all we got, and the first is nothing more than a 12-bar, though executed confidently enough to dazzle. The last ends suddenly, almost like an accidental tape splice or a mastering error, which is a bit odd. I was curious about Hawes, and wanted to hear the pain and struggles of his addictions in his playing, but this is kinda standard (while I must point out - technically extremely competent, colourful and expressive, and bright). I wonder if more somber music might reveal more of who he was - and 'Spring', by far the highlight of this record, suggests this might be the case. It's also crazy to think that just a few months after this was recorded, somewhere across town, the Art Ensemble of Chicago recorded People in Sorrow and all of those other mind-blowing explorations of the American experience.

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