John Daversa and Tal Cohen’s fun and freewheeling, expansively artistic and powerfully intuitive and conversational collection The Art of Duo Volume One proves that when musical soul mates are destined to join forces and create jazz transcendence, nothing can stop them. In fact, at a time when the pandemic stopped their larger solo engagements cold, Daversa (trumpet, EVI, vocals) and Cohen (piano) found creative refuge in exploring a fresh musical relationship that, if the album title is any indication, will be a primary mode of expression moving forward.
Feel free to Google these Grammy winners’ mile long histories as you listen to this dynamic, intimate project, but don’t let your awe of their individual accomplishments distract from a session where resumes were checked at the door, escape into new possibilities was the only concept going in and the two jazz masters allowed themselves the freedom to create what they call “really honest reactionary improv.”
The fact that the official press materials for The Art of Duo doesn’t list descriptions of individual tracks speaks volumes about the duo’ intention to make this a free-flowing aural experience, with colorful stylistically diverse stops along the journey serving the collective joy of musical soul mates doing what comes naturally for them. Still, there are a few exciting entry points that offer insight into why, though featuring only two players, this collection is every bit as epic as their larger band and ensemble works.
Daversa and Cohen bring the album cover image of vintage boxers to life on the major mood swings of “Artful Sparring,” which evolves from a punchy, frenetic dance to a bouncy, whimsical mode marked by heavy piano chords and trippy experimental EVI ventures. They follow that zany fun with the elegant ballad “But Beautiful,” a graceful, haunting piece that perfectly showcases the great expressive beauty that emerges from the choice to share a more intimate vibe. Just when Daversa and Cohen have hooked us in on their instruments, they throw a “Little Black Spider” into the mix, following Daversa’s spoken word intro with a taste of the trumpeter’s little heard Chet Baker-like vocal eloquence.
The best example of high octane piano-trumpet fire is the feisty, percussive and odd metered romp “The Fool and the Emporer,” while “The Art of Sanity” shows the tenderhearted flip side (with a little percussive whimsy, just for kicks) of that same horn-piano combination before they start to run gleefully amok with their keen experimentation once again. They fashion another can’t miss sonic adventure on the frenetic jam “Junk Wagon Cameo,” with Daversa creating all kinds of high and low hypnotic horn tones over Cohen’s edgy chords. When you listen to these tracks and others, you’ll come away with a feeling that these guys, for all their great achievements, are onto some of the most incredible creativity of their careers – and you’ll be anxiously awaiting Volume 2!