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Martial Solal & Dave Douglas - Rue De Seine Print E-mail
Monday, 01 May 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    9
release year:    2006
label:    CAM
reviewed by:    Scott Yanow

Image The combination of French pianist Martial Solal and American trumpeter Dave Douglas for a set of duets is logical in retrospect, though it was not inevitable. Solal, 78 at the time of this recording, has been a major pianist since the 1950s. Although flexible enough to play bop and even to have recorded with New Orleans soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, Solal has always been an advanced improviser. His chord voicings are his own, and he’s just as apt to play a free improvisation as to dig into a standard. Solal certainly never sounds his age.

Dave Douglas at 43 can look back on a very busy couple of decades. His technique is impressive and he has a bright, attractive sound, but most impressive is his versatility. Douglas has performed tributes to the likes of Miles Davis, pianist Mary Lou Williams and trumpeter Booker Little, but he has also performed in very avant-garde settings, delved into East European folk music, and is never shy to appear with groups featuring unusual instrumentation.

One thing Solal and Douglas have in common is that listeners never know what project they will embark on next. Their duet set is quite wide-ranging and full of unexpected moments, with the pair performing three originals apiece and then closing their meeting with four standards.
"July Shower" has Solal providing an eccentric bass line while a muted Douglas improvises quite freely. As is often true elsewhere, their playing is consistently adventurous yet tonal and often melodic, with the two players constantly reacting to each other. Douglas sounds a little like Don Cherry in this no-changes setting. "Blues to Steve Lacy" pays tribute to the late soprano saxophonist; a bit of a dirge but it does not drag. Douglas's open horn is heard playing a sad melody over Solal's insistent punctuations, and the theme fits Lacy's scalar style. Since Lacy was a major proponent of Thelonious Monk's music, it is probably not coincidental that Solal hints at Monk in spots. "34 Bars Blues," which has Douglas utilizing a cup mute on his horn, has unaccompanied sections for the two musicians and some fiery interplay. Although Douglas contributed "For Suzannah," the lyrical ballad is taken as a piano solo. Solal's dramatic "East Ballad" is a somewhat forbidding work that hints at modern classical music. "Elk's Club," although still mostly "outside," is witty and bluesy, leading to the standards.

It is usually intriguing to hear advanced improvisers digging into older songs; they tend to bring fresh life to even the most overplayed tunes. While the Solal-Douglas duo swings the four closing numbers in their own way, this is not routine bebop by any means. "Have You Met Miss Jones" has the musicians gaining their inspiration from the tune's theme rather than the chord changes. They also keep the melody of "Body and Soul" close by, even when exploring the ballad at double-time pace. "Here's That Rainy Day" is taken very slow and out-of-tempo, an effective treatment, while the closing "All the Things You Are" is the closest thing to a conventional performance on the set, although Solal's patterns and commentary behind Douglas keep the music from ever becoming predictable.

Throughout Rue de Seine, Martial Solal and Dave Douglas never coast, and they constantly challenge each other. It serves as an excellent example of today's modern jazz.

With only two musicians on this set and a superior piano being utilized, one takes it for granted that the technical quality of these studio sessions will be superb. Listeners will not be disappointed, for the sound is never a factor. The balance is perfect, and since both musicians pay close attention to dynamics no matter what setting they are in, audiophiles will be pleased.

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