The appearance of this duet set is cause for celebration. Pianist and vibraphonist Berger has been a major force in modern jazz and improvised music for at least 50 years - as a player, composer, and as an originator of the Contemporary Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, where he first encountered bassist John Lindberg in 1975. Lindberg is best known for his stellar work with Anthony Braxton, and is the prime mover behind The String Trio of New York.
The music on Duets 1 is both simple and complex. Simple in terms of instrumentation and in terms of its memorable, hummable melodies; complex in terms of the myriad ways in which these two master improvisers interact. The program - a collection of Berger and Lindberg originals, plus Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace’ and two by Ornette’s former bassist, the late David Izenzon - is inviting and listener-friendly, yet provides sufficient challenges for the discriminating avant-jazz fan.
‘I Am A Leaf For Today’, the first the Izenzon compositions is a sweet and slightly melancholy ballad while ‘In My Mind’s Eye’, a tour de force for Lindberg’s impeccable and muscular arco bass, is perhaps the most ‘outside’ piece on the CD. Berger’s compositions have a crystalline, self-contained character that belie the composer’s wry wit and joyous recognition of life’s contradictions. This is exemplified by ‘Dakini’ - a piece which projects both heart-rending sadness and that particular sort of resolve that springs therefrom. The elegaic ‘Innocuous’ and the episodic ‘Chromatic Ways’ showcase his simple, elegant approach to the piano and the depth of his connection with Lindberg - here they seem to be breathing together, intuitively.
Lindberg, like Berger, is fascinated by rhythm, and his pieces make use of all sorts of tempos and rhythms - often superimposed - in a variety of ways. ‘3-3-3-7’ alludes to the composition’s time signature, and is a perfect vehicle for Berger’s crisp and graceful vibraphone. After an arresting arco bass introduction, ‘Yatan-Na’ marches forth in an odd-metered ostinato while Berger - on piano - unspools yet another arresting improvisation. The uptempo "Ancient Warmth", starts off with a complicated Latinate feel and evolves into a jazzy vehicle for more of Berger’s Yoda-like vibraphone magic.
Listening to Duets 1 I got the impression that these compositions were carefully chosen for this particular duet setting. Each tune has a signature or kernel to it that sets it apart from the rest of the pieces. The result is engaging, thoughtful, and playful music that never fails to entertain and - if you are patient enough - enlighten. Profoundly beautiful from start to finish.