Jeff Crompton’s ‘Duets’ debuts at 800 East Studios
The jazz maestro drops an album of adventurous collaborations
It takes two to tango on Duets, a new album by composer and saxophone player Jeff Crompton pairing up with a trio of formidable collaborators. Featuring a dozen songs and bonus track, Duets highlights Crompton’s expansive stylistic palate, and his deep command of jazz expressions.
”Half the pieces were written with a particular duet partner in mind, and half are old compositions, but everyone's contributions took them to a new level,” Crompton says.
To celebrate the release of Duets, all of Crompton’s partners — Stuart Gerber (percussion), Peter Sloan (trombone), and Chris Case (piano) — will be on hand for a concert Saturday night at 800 East Studios. Sloan gets the award for farthest distance traveled. The ex-trombonist with the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra is currently pursuing a PhD in music at the University of California in San Diego.
Duets kicks off with “Stumble, Fall,” a rhythmically dynamic excursion for alto sax and percussion. Gerber’s imaginatively crafted small kit (blocks, toms, cymbals, bell) bashing perfectly complements Crompton’s elegant melodic phrasing. “It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t work with most musicians,” says the saxophonist, “but I knew it would work with Stuart.”
“Vic and Sid” is a bluesy romp featuring Crompton’s alto and Sloan’s slide trombone. Like a couple of old friends after a few too many, the duo sloppily weaves down a late night alley, straying apart and bumping back into each other in a series of flurries, squawks, bleats and blats, eventually finding their way home in perfect harmony.
Pianist Chris Case brings his lushly romantic chops to bear on a few of the album’s softer, more palpably trad-jazz, compositions (“Hidden Hearts,” “Daylilies” and “In the Basement,” the latter co-credited to Case). On the closing track, “Offering,” the pianist accompanies Crompton’s sweetly honed alto with a bit of overdubbing and reverse playback, which works surprisingly well considering the straightforward nature of the rest of the music.
Duets includes a bonus track, which features Crompton and Atlanta-based drummer/composer Jamie Shepard performing Ornette Coleman's “Lonely Woman” at the Music Room in 2011. The music competes with audience chatter and a squeaky restroom door, which somehow makes the subtly powerful duet performance all the more remarkable.
This is sublimely sophisticated jazz, but not so esoteric that the listener needs specialized ears to dig it. To one degree or another, every track on Duets is imbued with an essentially engaging pairing of swing and groove.