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Searle on Jazz: Beauty is a rare thing

CHRIS SEARLE reviews two collaborative albums by alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard

Silke Eberhard and Dave Burrell - Darlingtonia

(Jazzwerkstatt 112)

Silke Eberhard and Aki Takase - The Ornette Coleman

Anthology (Intakt CD129)

It may seem like an unusual enough duo - a septuagenarian African-American pianist bred and flourishing in free and ever-roving jazz, Dave Burrell, and the much younger Silke Eberhard, a German alto saxophonist born in 1972 in Heidenheim an der Brenz, her inspirations the great US altoists Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman.

They first met in 2009 at the Jazzwerkstatt Festival, when Eberhard was performing her Dolphy "Potsa Lotsa" tribute, and the year after they combined at the Schlot Berlin jazz club for their very first live performance, which was recorded and became their album Darlingtonia.

Nothing to do with the Durham town or its football club, but named after a botanist whose name had been given to the cobra lily, with each track being allocated the latinate title of a particular species of bug.

Burrell was born in Middleton, Ohio, in 1940 and educated at the University of Hawaii and subsequently at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he gained his degree in musical composition. The names of two of his earliest bands, the Untraditional Jazz Improvisational Team with Philadelphian tenorist Byard Lancaster and the 360 Degree Musical Experience with trombonist Grachan Moncur and drummer Beaver Harris, tell of Burrell's unconditionally original jazz pathways, including long stints with powerfully iconoclastic hornmen Archie Shepp and David Murray.

Eberhard had long admired Burrell's work with Shepp. Burrell had heard and been impressed by Eberhard's homage album to Ornette, the Ornette Coleman Anthology, with Japanese pianist Aki Takase.

So their live Berlin meeting had all the promise of a truly creative and empathetic sonic rendezvous, with two burning jazz spirits set on a performance of mutual timbral discovery and co-operation from far distant origins.

Lytta Vesicatoria is the first species to be found in the duo's insectarium and as it flickers, leaps and pauses from Eberhard's European horn and runs apace along Burrell's ever-agile American keys, you, the listener, can but marvel that these two musicians, generations, ethnicities, oceans and continents apart, have never played together before - such is the instant bonding of their notes.

The second track, called Meloidae, is an improvisation provoked by some gripping unaccompanied Eberhard, but as it develops it makes its own instantaneous tunefulness as Burrell works out a repetitive pattern of notes and Eberhard adds her responses, creating melody by sheer colloquy. Is that what the insects do?

Liloceris Lil II opens with some brilliantly pounding Burrell pursued by Eberhard's breathlessly buzzing and screeching alto response, while the 14 minutes of Rhyncoris Iracundus is built on Eberhard's plaintive blueslike cry before Burrell's astonishingly ubiquitous keyboard replies. Ensifera puts away the microscope with some rumbustious Eberhard romping above her partner's grounding chords, closing a scintillating album.

The Ornette Coleman Anthology is as good as Burrell averred, another duo effort, with this time Eberhard sharing the sounds with the amazingly eclectic Aki Takase, whose wildly diverse recordings run the gamut of jazz artistry, fusing her versions of the early blues with freely conceived tributes to jazz genius as far apart as Fats Waller and Eric Dolphy.

Embracing Ornette, the twosome immediately invoke his extraordinary melodism, from the very first notes of the opener Turnaround to the final sounds of Una Muy Bonita two hours and two CDs later.

Eberhard said that the Texan Ornette Coleman's music provided her with "a giant question mark," and the tunes chosen by the duo are those he wrote and recorded during his first great challenge to the world of jazz, between 1959 and 1968, now recreated by two brilliant and faraway women.

Takase plays her stride-based phrases gleaned from an era three decades before that of Ornette and applies them to another, five decades after.

For Eberhard it is as if she is discovering these tunes for the first time.

Hear her bass clarinet, unaccompanied and seething in Cross Breeding, or her alto digging and dodging back through musical history in The Sphinx or Folk Tale.

The tracks are kept short and the tunes are rarely submerged under long improvisations as if Eberhard's birdlike choruses show how much Ornette's tunes were made to whistle and sing for all time, which is what this record's listeners will be doing after they hear Mr and Mrs People, Takase's pounding chords in Broadway Blues or Eberhard's sublime tone in Peace.

As Ornette said through one of his most memorable tune titles, "beauty is a rare thing" - and you have it here for two gorgeous hours.


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