There are few absolutely great jazz duet recordings. Lots of artists have tried the format (Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall and Ron Carter, Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, etc.), but truly wonderful duets are far and few between. The intentions are always good, but sparks fail to fly as the artists are usually much too concerned with honoring each other. To place money on Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines’ "Weatherbird" being the best duet ever is as safe a bet as one can ever make - and they were certainly not worryied about honoring each other. To this reviewer’s ears Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s People Time, even though it’s recorded at the end of Getz’s life when he was obviously ailing, is the gold standard following Armstrong and Hines.
While not quite up to the above listed recordings, Joe Lovano and Hank Jones’ Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola is a well above average statement in the duet art, and well worth checking out. The problem with the recording that keeps it from rising to the level of the others, is that the artists are a little too polite. They’re definitely listening to and playing off of each other’s ideas, witness the trading section of "Charlie Chan" where they mimic each other’s rhythmic motives, how "Kids Are Pretty People" is an exquisite statement of ensemble grace and the hip rhythmic tension during "Four In One," but overall these two artists sound a little sleepy. "Soultrane" doesn’t quite take off, "Little Rascal On A Rock" doesn’t seem to arrive and "Lazy Afternoon" is similarly sluggish.
Separately each artist is a giant in the field. Elder statesman Jones is the older brother to fellow jazz luminaries Thad and Elvin, and still plays with the fire and desire of a man a-third his age. Lovano, long considered by many the rightful heir to the Coltrane legacy, and deservedly so, has wielded a personal style that is simultaneously cutting-edge and in-the-tradition. They have previously played together on disc. In 2004 they recorded I’m All For You - Ballad Songbook, and in 2005, Joyous Encounter. Both of those recordings included a rhythm section accompaniment.
Special note on this recording is Jones’ remarkable creativeness on "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" and "Oh! Look At Me Now!" Nobody singingly-swings on the piano like Jones, not to mention his harmonic inventiveness throughout, and for these two cuts alone all pianists should pick up this disc. Lovano is Lovano, a supremely gifted and talented artist. His lines seem so logical you’d think he pre-composed every one of them. You want to hate these guys for their abundant talent, but you can’t because in addition to their command of the art they are also the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet.
Additionally, it’s obvious they enjoy playing together. Their easy musical association is obvious on tunes like "Lullaby, "Budo" and "Four In One." On each they weave beautiful lines together that can not be separated into melody and accompaniment. So smooth is Jones in his playing the Gestalt has to be taken as a unit for without his presence Lovano would not be able to create the lightly whispered concepts that follow Jones’ stated and implied harmonies. It’s not really possible, in jazz, to know another artist too well. In Hollywood, the Oscar’s suffer because of all the "in" jokes. Perhaps here it’s also possible many of the references are a little too "inside." Still, it’s two great well-conversant musicians having a conversation, and we get to listen in - now that’s a joy.