Sunday, March 4, 2012

Articulate Conversation: Duets by Reg Schwager

Duets (Jazz for Rant, 2011) is the latest from guitarist, Reg Schwager whose been carving a musical niche for himself since the early 80s. I’ve seen Schwager play on a number of occasions through the years in Toronto and his technique and musical vocabulary is second to none. It’s for this reason alone that Duets is the best showcase for his remarkable sound and articulation. It is a thoughtful and introspective album of standards and original compositions, with four of Canada’s finest bass players: Pat Collins, Neil Swainson, Don Thompson and Dave Young.

A lot of cross-pollination has taken place between the performers. Thompson and Swainson have played and recorded with George Shearing. Young has played with Oscar Peterson and Pat Collins is a teacher, bandleader and accompanist to musicians and singers, such as Maureen Kennedy, in Toronto. Schwager has also earned the experience of playing with everybody on the scene in Canada by forging a career of constant one-nighters. His commitment has paid off: Duets captures a musician at the top of his game.

The litmus test for any musician is the duo performance because it requires a technique that fashions itself as a conversation. An idea is expressed and the players either argue or agree by making complementary points. In the history of jazz, duo performances were in abundance in the early 1920s as a singer or piano-player laid down a traditional blues number or a cabaret song. Some of Bessie Smith’s earliest recordings featured only a piano accompanist. Then the larger, more accessible sound of groups filtered into the scene and duo recordings were fewer in number.

Guitarist Reg Schwager
After the Second World War, as jazz evolved and recording techniques improved, the duo performance came back into fashion, as it were, particularly in the 1970s. Sackville Records, the Canadian label established by Bill Smith and John Norris inToronto, had served the format well artistically and economically. They had very little money, but just enough to produce solo and duo recordings by upcoming American and Canadian musicians. Some exceptional recordings by Jim Hall and Ron Carter have marked duo recordings featuring guitarists and bass players, though it’s rare. Their work offered an intimate and introspective sound garnished with swing, bebop and modal compositions. In fact, guitarist Jim Hall has probably recorded the most duo recordings than anyone in jazz. Last year Guido Basso released a strong album of duets with individual sessions with a guitarist, bass player or pianist. The leader played flugelhorn on most of the sessions that were unrehearsed. It was a bright record full of invention and straight-ahead playing.

The music on Duets is a mix of standards and original compositions, usually featuring a work by the bass player in question. “Sir George,” written by Reg Schwager, is an up-tempo bop tune. It was written for George Shearing capturing his harmonic sensibility with an impossibly difficult melody. But Schwager and Swainson swing the tune beautifully. I particularly like another Schwager composition, “Slaueroff at Sea,” for its graceful sway. It’s the best of the four duos with the esteemed musician, who’s considered one of the most important composers in jazz. Pat Collins gets the feature spot on his composition, “All Right by Myself.” The music swings hard and Schwager and Collins easily move back and forth in the piece. The pair also take a nice run at the Latin tune, “Judge’s Row,” also written by Collins.

Dave Young is featured on only three tracks, but they’re impressive. Schwager first played with Young’s band 30 years ago. Their long-time musical friendship is nicely displayed on the closer “New Delft Blues.” Duets is an album of good music. It’s not trying to be inventive but as a result of the respect musicians have for the other, including their excellent listening skills, the ideas flow easily making this album one of the finest of the genre.

John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster. He's currently working on a radio documentary, with Kevin Courrier, for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.

No comments:

Post a Comment