The more I listen to music, the more I realize how much personal taste depends on conditioning and receptiveness. Most conditioning happens before the age of 20, and so, most listeners are receptive only to the styles they learned to like by that age. But it's fun and challenging to try styles you don't usually dig and see if you can figure out why they appeal to others.
The occasion for these ruminations is the audition of a duet disc featuring reedman Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore) and pianist Fred Hersch. Having been raised on solo piano and combos from trios to big bands, I have to work a little harder to be objective about the recent spate of duo recordings we've been seeing. I'm troubled by an uneasy suspicion that it, like guest artists on only a few tracks, is a way to reduce cost.
Not that it's that hard to get used to this particular duo, even if you didn't first hear them in kindergarten. They've been playing together on and off for over 30 years and are totally simpatico. Here they play three standards and eight well-written originals.
Moore's clarinet tone is clear and warm and fairly typical for a jazz player. On alto though, he belongs to a minority headed by Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz more Desmond's famous "dry martini" than the fatter, more aggressive timbre favored by Bird or Cannonball. Moore's improvising matches his tone, melodic and cerebral rather than hot and passionate, at least on this set. As you might expect, the always thoughtful Hersch is with him all the way, at times sounding like he's playing a well-constructed classical piece. They add welcome variety to a potentially tiresome ambience in several ways. Moore switches between clarinet and alto; there's a good range of tempos; and several tracks have a Latin feel, including the first, the sensuous "Green Eyes."
While the duo is often going for cool beauty (and winning), they can have fun too, especially with a tune like the irrepressible Monk's "Four in One." Moore gets clarinet-sassy, while Hersch emphasizes playful staccato single-notes and chords with lots of space between. I second a suggestion made awhile back by reviewer Mark Corroto that Congress pass a law requiring all albums to have at least one tune by Monk.
My favorite among the originals is Moore's "Langrage." The tune begins with the composer's horn sounding like a complaining cow and segues into a repeating Latin rhythm. When Hersch takes over, the tempo begins to accelerate, and when Moore rejoins the two get into one of the better grooves on the album.
Hersch's satisfying "Canzona" concludes the session in a quiet mood, coming full circle to its romantic "Green Eyes" start.
If you're a duo fan, this is a tasty one. If, like me, you're upbringing excluded duos, don't worry. Receptiveness can overcome conditioning. Try it. You'll like it.