En passant, I recall, is one way to capture a chess pawn; unlike many other free-form duets, this series between Peter Schmid (tubax, taragot, bass and contrabass clarinet) and Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, shakuhachi, clarinet and bass clarinet) is near chess-like in its structure and well-thought-out sense of play between participants. Some early bits on the CD are almost reminiscent of the Schostakovich/ Stravinsky school of mid-th century modernsm, and even when wigging out (not as often as you might think) there is proportion and elasticity. I'm sure there will be the odd scribe who will trot out the old saw about 'playing in different rooms,' but that is because these duets are as much based on what is implied as opposed to what is actually stated. And to catch the implication is difficult for the trained participant; how hard can it be for the lowly crit?
But what is improvisation, after all? Evan Parker has said it is at base 'putting things together,' which of course is what composition is as well. But improv also adds the dimension of chance. Chance that the twosome will both land on a similar chord to ill effect, or on two absolutely wrong ones at the same time, shattering the 'compositional' or 'improvisational' envelope. So what does one do? Anticipate. Guess. Extrapolate what one heard the other do moments before and try to counter or complement it in some way. Or both. Few players can do it spectacularly well, and on "SchRoth #2" a few minutes of lively, almost "Dixieland - via - the - Moskva - Express " exchange near make the record worth buying for those 11 minutes alone. (Let's not forget one of Uncle Dmitri's piano concertos had ragtime elements... I just wish I could recall which one.)
I think Messrs. Rothenberg and Schmid want us to take this CD as a whole, given how all the tracks are named "SchRoth #1" through "#12." Tapped stops give a ghost of percussives here and there, journeys into the more sawtoothed of these instruments' vocal registers undercut repeating, varying motifs, and an elfin humor peeks out repeatedly. All great fun.
I admit my gold standard for modern wind duets is George Cartwright and Michael Lytle's RED ROPE on Cadence Records (an absolute must for fans of improv), but EN PASSANT stands up to it ably, and is also well worth your bucks. Listen to it all the way through the first few times!
by Kenneth Egbert