As a follow-up to part one of our feature on three live drummer-plus-one duo performances, I’ve picked out ten recorded examples of the format. This is by no means a definitive or representative list (I should maybe have plugged that 21 year gap), so I’d welcome any other recommendations. I doubt these are even all currently in print, but I do know that the curious will be rewarded with some precision percussion and intense interplay. I’ve listed the duos drummer first, regardless of their billing on the sleeve, in order to, you know, give the drummer some…
Rashied Ali and John Coltrane – Interstellar Space (1967): There is probably nothing to say about this record, Coltrane’s last studio masterpiece, recorded just moths before his death, that you wouldn’t have heard already. But, listening to it again, it still sounds extraordinarily fresh. Given the way his band had expanded over the years (reaching, for example, eight members on Kulu Se Mama and, infamously, eleven on Ascension) its stripped back nature is shocking in context. As is the confidence of Coltrane’s younger foil Rashied Ali, who rose effortlessly to the challenge of replacing Elvin Jones in the hottest drum seat there was, and on Interstellar Space succeeds in hitching his restlessly rhythmic carriages onto the master’s constantly charging train of thought.
Han Bennink and William Breuker – New Acoustic Swing Duo (1967): Swing? Someone is having a laugh, right? And that person is most probably Han Bennink who, while an improvising drummer of considerable skill, has been known to play the clown – or even to play the cheese. This couldn’t be further away from swing, what with saxophonist (and clarinetist) Breuker honking like a flock of distressed geese, and Bennink playing what at times sounds like a ramshackle pile of wood and metal – the recording, it has to be said, is ultra lo-fi. However, through the sonic fog you can just about make out Bennink running through an impressive collection of globally-sourced percussion, from Indian tabla to Chinese temple blocks.
Milford Graves and Don Pullen – Nommo (1967): The size of Milford Graves’s discography is completely dwarfed by that of his reputation. One of the pioneers of free jazz drumming (typically mentioned in the same breath as Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille and Rashied Ali), his legend spread by virtue of his live performances rather than his recording. So if you can find a copy of this early live LP he made with the pianist Don Pullen, grab it: it shows him at his thunderous best, with huge dramatic cymbal crashes punctuating Pullen’s lightning quick runs.
Tony Oxley and Cecil Taylor – Leaf Palm Hand (1988): Given that Cecil Taylor’s piano style was likened by Val Wilmer to “eighty eight tuned drums”, you have to wonder where on earth a drummer would fit in. But Tony Oxley is no ordinary drummer. His kit is hyper-extended – with bells, blocks and bits aplenty – to enable him to respond to the barrage of sound the pianist is going to be sending in his direction. Their partnership has been long and fruitful as a result, and this is a fine document of it: just listen to the way Oxley mixes his clicks and clangs into Taylor’s torrent on the opening “Stylobate 1″, with the dexterity and speed of a croupier shuffling a deck of cards. A pair of aces, indeed.
Chris Corsano and Paul Flaherty – The Hated Music (2000): Chris Corsano’s star may still be in the ascendancy (working with Thurston Moore, Joe McPhee and, of course, Björk), but this was the pan-generational cloud of white hot improvisational vapour in which it started to coalesce. In his first duo meeting with the impressively bearded saxophonist Paul Flaherty, the younger Corsano meets fire with fire, Flaherty’s carpet bombing extended technique (all upper register squeaks and howls) being matched by a veritable percussive battery. Corsano’s style is completely hyperkinetic, full of ideas, invention and power. It was no suprise that they recorded a sequel and called it The Beloved Music – a far more appropriate description for this wonderful music.
Hamid Drake and Fred Anderson – Back Together Again (2004): While the Chicago jazz scene continues to be a most fertile one to this day, its importance to the free jazz scene via the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) cannot be understated. One of its founder members, the late Fred Anderson, is reunited here with fellow Illinoisan Hamid Drake for local label Thrill Jockey. The two fit together like old friends, keeping it tight and straight (well, compared to some on this list) as well as noticeably sparse. Drake beats out time on hand drums and plays some restrained percussion figures while Anderson unspools lyrically like he is remembering Coltrane on Crescent. A late at night and, sadly, late in life classic.
Peetr Uuskyla and Peter Brötzmann – Born Broke (2008): Peter Brötzmann’s legend is that of being amongst the loudest, fieriest and most forcefully “out” saxophonists of his (or any) generation, but anyone who has listened beyond the usual starting points (eg Machine Gun, Fuck De Boere) will know that he is more versatile than he gets credit for, and capable of plenty of subtlety when the mood takes him. Over Peetr Uuskyla’s near-military marches and gradually shifting circular patterns, he is forced into more rhythmic spaces than is often the case. He takes to these like a dog chewing on a big old bone, working on phrases, ultimately shredding them with growls, vibrato and upper register howls. The set is beautifully recorded, and a must for Brötz-heads out there.
Weasel Walter and Mary Halvorson – Opulence (2008): Weasel Walter is another drummer who, like Chris Corsano, totally epitomises the spirit of punk-jazz: he was in the excoriating Flying Luttenbachers (and has also played with Bill Orcutt’s Harry Pussy), though he has also shared a stage with jazz names like Ken Vandermark and Peter Evans. As you can probably tell from the lurid cover, this meeting with guitarist Mary Halvorson is in the former camp. It promises much from its title alone (track titles promise yet more: “Faberge Eggs Filled With Caviar”, “Rare Vodka From The Fourteenth Century” for example) and in fact, it is just stuffed full of primal energy, the two twitching and spasming in unison in their rush to get it all out there. A blast.
Paal Nilssen-Love and Joe McPhee – Tomorrow Came Today (2009): Paal Nilssen-Love, thanks to his work with Mats Gustafsson and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten in their trio The Thing, is rightly one of the most highly rated drummers on the planet right now. American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee sat in on The Things’s She Knows record in 2002, and here he picks up the dialogue again with the muscular drummer. Nilssen’Love’s huge power and speed is evident from the way he tears into “Go” (he sounds like two drummers playing at once) but elsewhere when McPhee slips in some improvised balladry, he reacts quickly to play with tiny sticks on cymbals, as if painting the stars into the saxophonist’s dark skies.
Tony Marsh and Veryan Weston – Stops (2010): Stops starts with a brief minute of the British drummer Tony Marsh playing solo into a resonant space, before an unexpected and quite alien sound enters the mix. It also reveals the source of that resonance, as it becomes clear that his partner Veryan Weston is playing a church organ, no less. There aren’t many documented church organ/percussion duo sets out there, and it can take the ears a little time to adjust to the concept. But once they do, it becomes clear that the playing on this is exceptional, a real meeting of minds. Marsh locks onto every pulsation Weston’s instrument makes, finding rhythm within sound, creating fleeting structures which just evaporate and float up towards the vaulted roof.