Creative drive demands new sounds and techniques. With so many terrific jazz pianists recording nowadays, it's tough to satisfy that drive—tough even to be noticed, unless you are the second coming of Art Tatum. It’s tempting to try a new approach—maybe a piano and percussion duo? Dave Anderson and Mike Wingo have given it a shot.
Wingo produces a spectrum of colors not often heard accompanying a piano. His exotic set includes bongos, many cymbal sizes, and a few percussive rarities. Bongos push the beat and add a Latin flavor to most of the up-tempo tunes. A large cymbal and an unnamed silvery jingly sound are prominent on many of the slower tracks.
The duo has chosen a great program. It’s mostly standards, beginning with a surprisingly carefree version of the usually wistful "It Might As Well Be Spring." While Anderson is straightforward, Wingo accents the melody line with a light touch on a small cymbal. Bongos are prominent as the pianist leaves the melody.
Luiz Bonfa's "Gentle Rain" is a gorgeous tune, and its Latin origin makes it a better fit for this duo than many of the more familiar songs here. Wingo again varies his tools and dynamics as Anderson moves from romantically gentle to more intense.
"I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" is up next with a more typical result for the ballads on this release. The treatment is overly loving, and the instrumental combination gets in the way rather than furthering the cause. The arrangement features Anderson at his most lounge-like, and Wingo's additions are incongruous, as though originally designed to accompany a 1960s Beat-poetry reading.
Chick Corea's "La Fiesta" is another tune better suited to the duo’s virtues. Anderson sticks to a Spanish vibe, and Wingo imitates the sound and rhythm of a Flamenco guitarist who is thumping the body of his guitar. Anderson’s own “Song of You,” with a related Latin rhythm, is one of the program's best tracks.
Conversations' publicity release says that a piano and percussion combo "is seldom heard in jazz." Unfortunately, there's a good reason for that—it doesn't work as well as a trio. We like the foundation a bass provides and the way it reinforces both keyboard harmonies and the drum's rhythmic energy. There are some good moments, and the musicians deserve credit for trying something unusual, but they are unlikely to be starting a trend.