Lucian Ban & Alex Harding: Somethin' Holy (2003)
As band mates and musical brothers Lucian Ban and Alex Harding share the kind of synergy essential to a successful duet session. Both men evince highly emotive playing stylesand coupled with astute expertise in the language of jazz, it's a pairing guaranteed to pay dividends. Harding is a regular member of Ban's working group, which operates under the simple moniker of The Jazz Unit. Capitalizing on his deepening relationship with the CIMP family the baritonist secured this intimate date for he and his friend, the results of which show the two to be complimentary to a degree few musicians can muster. There's a drenching pathos to their music that cleanses as it refreshes. Through their respective instruments and in near-telepathic collusion, Harding and Ban mean what they say.
Through the dry acoustics of a rented recital hall the music unfolds, moving from the somber modal eulogy of "Invocation for Wilber, composed in honor of the then ailing, now departed, bassist Wilber Morris, into a myriad of absorbing directions. The sad reality of Morris' mortal condition overarches the entire session, but both players leaven the weight with interludes of humor and gregariousness. Over the course Harding affects some of the hardest and most vociferous blowing I've ever heard on a CIMP date, and there are sections where it's a miracle that the microphones weren't overwhelmed by the sonic girth of his horn. Wide variations in volume from soft and soothing to harsh and strident add further to both the momentum and impact of the pieces. Such sounds should provide producer Bob Rusch with some potent ammunition for the regular clutch of skeptics who dismiss his preferred style of recording as catering to the inaudible.
The majority of the pieces spring from prolific Ban's pen and show the pianist to be a creative and eloquent composer. "Drifting sways along on Ban's lush chords and Harding's velvety phrasings- even the flutter of the latter's key pads can be heard. Caressing a cerulean melodic line at length the baritonist segues from soft to severe and Ban's pliant clusters trace a similar path between light and dark. "Somethin' Holy injects some pulpit-driven piety into the proceedings as Harding starts out solo, pushing broad spouts of notes through the wide-bore burnished bell of his horn. Ban enters minutes later with a minimalist lyrical commentary on his partner's gospel-hued patterns. From there it's a first class ticket to emphatic release, with Harding blowing in mighty gusts and Ban tempering his outbursts with tender asides.
Harding straps on his bass clarinet for "Resonance, trading clipped phrases with Ban's mercurial inside-outside piano stabs and plucks. Just as on the cumbersome sax, he shows himself a master at coaxing streams of subterranean tones from the recesses of the instrument while still retaining a sharp melodic edge. "African Blutopia and "African Flower echo elements of Ellingtonia, the first referentially, the second overtly, and both pieces find the pair approaching their instruments from familiar and unexpected vantage points. Ban's zither-like effects on the former suggest just one example of the revelatory styles of playing brought to bear. The result of it all coalesces into a frothing current of sound that all but carries the listener away to realms unforeseen. In his usual notes Rusch makes tempting mention of a quintet date that coincided with that of the duo. Based solely on the music herein that release is certain to be a must hear as well.
Track Listing: Invocation for Wilber; Drifting; Somethin' Holy; Resonance; Time for Trane; Night on Earth; African Blutopia; African Flower.
Personnel: Lucian Ban: piano; Alex Harding: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet.