Pianist Connie Crothers is well-versed in the art of the improvised duo. From pairings with fellow Tristano-leaning saxophonists Lenny Popkin and Richard Tabnik to more recent conclaves with bassist Michael Bisio and pianist David Arner, strong and fertile conversations form a good chunk of her discography past and present. Altoist Jemeel Moondoc is less accustomed to the format on record, although dialogues with bassist William Parker and dearly-departed drummer Denis Charles are cornerstones of his own catalog. The majority of his past records have dispensed with piano, as well. That last point is perhaps what makes Two most immediately appealing as an extended opportunity to hear him in close collaboration with a keyboardist of the caliber of Crothers. The cohesiveness of the music also points swiftly to another revelation: Moondoc and Crothers are good friends and have been playing together for many years, proof again that a musicians’ recorded output is usually simply the iceberg tip of their overall activity.
The bulk of the program finds the two players engaging in off-the-cuff improvisations, but they also find space for investigations of a piece apiece from their own songbooks. “You Let Me In to Your Life” is perhaps Moondoc’s crowning achievement as a composer, utterly disarming in its relative simplicity and captivating in its ability to balance and convey the mix of joy, awe and trepidation that attends nearly every nascent romance. In other words, ballads don’t get much more memorable or affecting. Crothers embraces the delicate, though highly resilient, theme with enthusiasm and the two spend nearly a dozen minutes devising a stream of lushly realized variations and detours that are by turns rhapsodic and romantic. Moondoc’s past versions of the piece (cf. Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys and New World Pygmies, Vol. 2) are classics and this one very nearly hits par. Crothers’s “Deep Friendship” doesn’t carry quite the punch as a composition, but still yields comparably deep results, particularly in its closing minutes when Moondoc plays some his most unadorned alto lines of the session.
The six other improvised pieces vary in focus and demeanor, making the most of the acoustics of the loft studio space and the close mic’ing of the respective instruments. Crothers works the pedals rigorously, building bright effusive swells and barrages that ricochet off the walls and sometimes border on piercingly strident. Moondoc’s signature cry, a vernacular that ranges from dry, piquant squawks to soulful melodic runs with loamy roots in vintage Ornette, is on full display. Even on the various occasions when the duo breaks shared stride, the lulls in communication are only fleeting and the collective momentum quickly righted.
The chief takeaway from this intimate series of duets is that Crothers and Moondoc are kindred sentimental souls, though not the sort who traffic in cheap musical melodrama or surface sensitivity for the sake of personal aggrandizement. The emotional reach in their interactions is real and often raw, and made all the more so thanks to the absence of other instruments.