There've been many important, fascinating, entertaining, and sometimes even perplexing duo-performers in jazz: Bill Evans/Jim Hall, Ellington/Blanton, Marilyn Crispell/Eddie Prevost, Anthony Braxton/Wadada Leo Smith, and Gary Burton/Chick Corea. The duo format holds so much promise as it's an intimate context, more intimate than even unaccompanied performances. Not to imply this CD by these youthful midwestern upstarts is in their class, but some of the qualities that made the aforementioned duos special are mos def in evidence on Method To The Madness.
The duo of Whiren and Meisel is essentially between two reed players who play additional assorted instruments, though the main emphasis is on their saxophones. Celia Whiren, also a fine mainstream hard-bopper, has a most distinctive sound on tenor -- while influences of Rollins, Ammons, Getz, and Dewey Redman can be heard/felt, she's woven and subsumed these influences completely into her own style. On soprano, there's a little keening Lacy and some of the fervent spirituality/cry of Kali Z. Fasteau. (Her track 13 soprano solo might make you cry if you've got a heart.) Meisel is no slouch either -- his alto has a intensely focused, almost sweet, mercurial sound, while his tenor some of the big, assertive, demonstrative qualities of Rollins and Joe Lovano (with some of Lester Young's vibrato-free cream), though his unaccompanied solo rant, track 12, recalls Roscoe Mitchell in his swirling "minimalist" mode. (What, you never heard Mitchell's album Nonaah?) Most importantly, though much of Madness is somewhat "free," both players possess a songlike melodicism. So, while they can dredge up some cathartic, potentially scary skronk from the primordial muck from which all Life springs, their solos often clearly SING, and frequently sing beautifully. Further, Method -- a collection of short tracks and suites -- is blissfully free of water-treading and aimless wank.