Piano and bass duos are not common in jazz recordings, but also not unprecedented. Some famous recorded duos include Duke Ellington and Ray Brown, Bill Evans and Scott Lafaro, Hank Jones and Red Mitchell. It is tempting to think of these as dummerless trios since we are so accustomed to the classic rhythm section, but that would be a mistake. The piano is after all a percussion instrument, and the bass adds a wonderful depth and warmth to the piano's percussive nature. If Ron Hart and Gary Fitzgerald are not quite the same household names in jazz as the aforementioned duos, they have still made a fine contribution to the jazz library of piano and bass recordings.
The record opens with the title track, "April in Paris," and we immediately get a sense of the ease with which Hart and Fitzgerald make music together. The two give the gently-paced tune lots of room to breath instead of filling every space with notes.
There are some lovely renditions here of other standards. A special gem is "Sidney's Soliloquy," a tune that was a favorite of the late jazz crooner Mel Tormé. Its shifts between minor and major tonalities give it the unusual feel of a pleasing sadness, like smiling through tears. Hart and Fitzgerald play out the tension well. Fitzgerald plays his solo mostly in the bass's upper register, a nice choice to underscore the tune's use of juxtaposition of major and minor.
Ray Charles made "Hit the Road, Jack" a raucous, foot-tapping R&B hit. Here, Hart and Fitzgerald slow it down to a bluesy walk. Fitzgerald opens and closes with straight-time quarter notes that evoke our "Jack" hitting the road reluctantly, just putting one foot in front of the other. In the middle however Fitzgerald builds the song by stepping first into eighth notes, then a nice double-time walking bass line. A very fresh treatment of this song.
Noteworthy among the originals are the quietly pretty "Unshakable Love" and the ambitiously-named "Middle East Solution." The latter is almost a miniature suite moving us through peace, conflict and back again.
Hart and Fitzgerald have given us some very enjoyable jazz on April in Paris. If you enjoy trios, give this record a try and you'll appreciate the simpler but still swinging sound of piano and bass.