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McCormack & Yarde Duo

Places And Other Spaces


by Ian Mann

October 21, 2011


A mature and intelligent work by a partnership of equals.

McCormack & Yarde Duo

“Places And Other Spaces”

(Edition Records EDN1028)

Pianist Andrew McCormack and saxophonist Jason Yarde released their first duo album, “MY Duo” on Yarde’s Joy And Ears imprint in 2009 to general critical acclaim. The pair’s latest offering on a new label, Edition Records, has garnered even more plaudits with the duo demonstrating a real affinity for each others’ playing.

Both musicians have established pedigrees; Yarde has been an important figure on the UK jazz scene for many years since his early beginnings with the groups J- Life and Tomorrow’s Warriors. He was worked with an exhaustive list of UK and US names, often acting as an arranger, and has led his own groups including Trio Wah! and Acoutastic Bombastic. McCormack currently works with both saxophonist Denys Baptiste and bassist Kyle Eastwood and also released an impressive and widely acclaimed piano trio album “Telescope” on the Dune label back in 2005.

The pairing of just saxophone and piano may appear limiting but McCormack and Yarde manage to find plenty to say within the format. This new album consists of eleven pieces which the duo like to think of as being akin to “short stories”, each is concise, often full of incident, and each establishes its own mood.  The composing credits are spread equally with each musician contributing four tunes each with two joint compositions plus a nod to tradition with the inclusion of George Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” which closes the album.

“Places And Other Spaces” was recorded at the Ship Studio at Dartington Hall in Devon and the location forms the inspiration for the jointly composed “D-Town” which opens this impressive set.  McCormack’s often hypnotic piano grooves sometimes recall Keith Jarrett and he’s allowed a good deal of solo space in the moments that Yarde’s sax isn’t dancing beguilingly around him. The duo were particularly happy with ambience of the Ship and Danish recording engineer August Wanngren has come up with a mix in which all the nuances of the duo’s interplay can be clearly heard and appreciated. 

McCormack’s lyrical “Spanish Princess” is located somewhere between Portico Quartet’s hypnotic but melodic minimalism and ECM style balladry with Yarde’s soprano alternating between the mellifluous and darkly probing.

Yarde’s own “Dark Too Bright” begins with a bird like chorus of unaccompanied soprano with McCormack’s piano subsequently shadowing Yarde’s every inflection before stealthily taking over the lead. It’s an inspired re-working of a tune that Yarde wrote more than twenty year ago for the group J-Life and concludes with saxophone and piano in perfect synchronicity.

McCormack’s “Antibes” unfolds slowly and organically with the pinpoint clarity of Yarde’s soprano contrasting nicely with the low key hypnotic rumble of McCormack’s piano figures. The melody itself is lovely, with a folk song like quality. Also by the pianist “Epilogue” explores broadly similar territory.

Like the opener Yarde’s “Hill Walking On The Tynerside” evokes a real sense of place with its alto sax squalls and dense left hand piano figures. Indeed McCormack’s use of rhythm throughout the album is fascinating with the pianist citing sources as diverse as Art Tatum and Prokofiev as inspirations.

After this the jointly composed “Other Spaces”, effectively the title track, is almost minimalistic in its reflective and lyrical self absorption. So too is “Holding Pattern”, another beautiful McCormack melody which the duo probe and stretch with quiet but rigorous intelligence.

Yarde’s “The Spaces Before” is a brief snippet of solo saxophone multiphonics and is followed by the saxophonist’s lovely “Flowers For Japan”, a response perhaps to the earthquake earlier this year but with a beautiful melody clearly inspired by Japanese music. The duo develop the theme with
each musician subsequently embarking on a solo feature, McCormack’s a limpid piano solo, Yarde’s a re-introducing of the multiphonics tantalisingly hinted at previously.

Finally the melody of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” is slowed down and stretched and given a thoroughly contemporary feel. McCormack begins the piece with an extended passage of solo piano with Yarde subsequently picking out the familiar melody. The duo show their customary empathy as they explore the piece, quietly stamping their own identity on the tune. Yarde’s lengthy passage of solo saxophone is exceptional, a model of taste and control.

“Places And Other Spaces” is a mature and intelligent work by a partnership of equals. It’s interesting to hear McCormack in another context after witnessing his barnstorming performances as a member of the Baptiste and Eastwood groups. Here the emphasis is on mood building and lyricism with the pianist succeeding brilliantly and revealing himself to be a wonderfully versatile musician. Much the same applies to Yarde who I have only previously seen or heard as a member of a larger ensemble.

Some listeners may find this album a little one paced and lacking in drama but there’s still plenty here to absorb and fascinate. I hope to witness the duo first hand when they support Michel Portal’s group at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 14th November 2011 as part of the London Jazz Festival. 

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