Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Five by Twos

Photo: John Rogers
Believe it or not, the duo of Dan Weiss (drums) and Miles Okazaki (guitar) has been together for 25 years playing with other musicians in various combinations; saxophonist and composer Ohad Talmor just issued his latest album "Mise en Place" (Intakt Records) with the duo serving as his musical partners. Both Weiss and Okazaki were commissioned to compose pieces for their duo by John Zorn's Stone Commissioning Series in early 2020; only the guitarist's eight-part "The Memory Palace" received its performance debut (2/26/2020). The drummer's debut of "Middlegame" was set for late March but was postponed due to the pandemic. 

Now Cygnus Recordings has issued the two suites on CD, digital download, and as a two-Lp set.  Aptly titled "Music for Drums and Guitar", the music is a fascinating amalgam of the two musicians various interests and how they communicate in sound.  Okazaki's 36-minute piece,  has moments of sly funky beats, throbbing grooves, flourishes of folk and classical influences, prog-rock and more. Plus there's a feeling of playfulness that inhabits pieces such as "Part II" and "Part IV" –– the guitarist digs in to the groove Weiss lays down and the dance forward.  The melody of "Part VII" is long but flows atop a river of percussion that builds in intensity until a flurry of guitar notes rain down on the frenetic drums.  "Part VIII" closes the suite slowly at first but the circular guitar riff begins to expand –– note how the snare echoes the rapid-fire guitar riffs. As the performance builds to a fiery climax, Okazaki steps on the "fuzz' pedal and the proceedings explode right up to the final chord.

Photo: John Rogers
Weiss's seven-part suite "Middlegame" displays all of his strengths without the music turning into a mere display of technique. First and foremost, not only does the drummer "swing", he is quite a melodic player. Note how "Parts I and II" set up the template for the rest of the work.  Weiss leads the guitarist in, all the while creating rhythms that have power and depth.  "Part III" finds the drums up front with Okazaki as the support and melodic foil. By the last 90 seconds of the piece, the guitarist is locked into the beat, his percussive lines in step with Weiss. The longest piece in the suite and on the album (12:52), "Part V", is also driven by the rhythms with the guitarist being the "foundation" while Weiss steps up.  The drummer moves in and around the guitar switching from swinging the beat to being "conversational" on his kit.  

Dig deeply into "Music for Drums and Guitar" and you will find a world of endless possibilities.  As stated above, Dan Weiss and Miles Okazaki have history together so they know each other's strengths.  There are no 'dead" spots in this program; instead, the music continues to move forward, slowly down now and then to contemplate textures and introspective interactions.  There's much to discover!!

For more information, go to To purchase the album, CD, or digital download, go to

Here's "Part II" from each suite:


The duo of Mary Halvorson (guitar, effects) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) first recorded together on 2017's "Crop Circle" (Relative Pitch Records), a collection of tracks that highlighted each musicians strengths as well as how they intuitively move through both composed and improvised material.  In June of this year, the duo got back together and recorded the 12 tracks that make up the two musicians second album and debut for Pyroclastic Records.  "Search for the Disappeared Hour" features five pieces composed by the guitarist, four by the pianist, and three improvisations.  The music draws in the listener while also challenging one's expectations. 

Ms. Halvorson's "Golden Proportion" opens the program; the opening melody is played by the guitar supported by powerful piano chords and rippling runs. On occasion, the musicians venture outside the stated rhythm yet never lose sight of the main thrust of the music.  Listen carefully and, right before the end, you'll hear a quote from Beethoven.  The pianist's "Mind Out of Time" finds Ms. Halvorson experimenting with sounds from the guitar while Ms. Courvoisier plays a dark, 20th Century style classical background.  The guitarist's "Bent Yellow" has a piano rhythm that references the music of Robin Holcomb; note how both musicians move in and out of blues patterns from the middle of the track forward. there are splashes of humor, the playful interactions of the duo creating a lightness that's hard to ignore. 

Photo: Self-portrait
Among the many delights on the recording is how the duo frame melodies so that they stand out. "Gates & Passes" is a ballad that builds up from the opening long melody into a long, dissonant, guitar solo. Note how Ms. Courvoisier never changes her pace or mood building her solo off the song's handsome chord structure. "Party Dress", an impromptu piece by the duo, has such a gentle feel even with the extended reverb on the guitar. "The album's closing piece, "Blizzard Rings", is also an improvisation that sounds like a dream, one in which someone is in a room full of wind-up toys –– the piano and guitar move in and around each other through to the soft finish.

"Searching for the Disappeared Hour" is quite an aural adventure through the creative minds of Mary Halvorson and Sylvie Courvoisier. If you are a fan of the two musicians, the music will delight and surprise you; if you are new to their explorations, keep an open mind and notice how the duo feeds off each others ideas, energy, and melodies.  

Here's the opening track:

Photo: Steve Mullensky
Does the end of Daylight Savings Time get you down?  Knowing that the evening starts earlier and the night lasts longer truly bother you?  My prescription for surviving the next several months is a healthy dose of "Reconvexo". No, it's not a new drug like the ones you might see on the nightly newscasts –– it's actually the new Anzic recording by the duo of Anat Cohen (clarinet, bass clarinet, voice) and Marcello Gonçalves (7-string guitar, voice). Recorded in January of 2020 while the duo was quarantined in Rio de Janiero, the nine-song program features songs from the Música Popular Brasileira songbook.  Their debut collaboration, "Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos", came out in 2017 so this time, they decided to play songs by some of Brazil's most popular composers.  

The album opens with the title track. Composed by Caetano Veloso for his sister Maria Bethânia for a 1989 album, the song has been covered by a slew of artists.  It's a bright melody that Ms. Cohen exults in while Gonçalves provides not only support but a percussive drive that pushes the song forward. Veloso and Milton Nascimento co-wrote "Paula e Bebeto", an episodic piece where the guitar and clarinets (Ms. Cohen overdubs bass clarinet) share the melody before the pace slows down for a lovely clarinet solo. The brightness of the guitar is expertly recorded so that you marvel at the brilliant accompaniment and how the piece moves organically.  Nascimento had his hand in composing two other songs on the album; he composed the words for Fernando Brant's lovely "Maria, Maria" which comes from a 1978 album about the legacy of slavery in Brazil while "Ânima" (composed with Zé Renato) is the title track for the singer's 1982 album.  The performance is truly beautiful with a melody that sounds like birds singing on a Spring morning. 

Other composers included in the program are Dori Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, the team of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa, the 19th Century Venezulean composer Heraclio Hernandez, and the team of Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.  "Never Dreamed You's Leave in Summer" is the tune that closes the album –– the sparkling arrangement of the Wright/ Wonder song does not sound out of place in this delightful collection.

"Reconvexo" is splendid from start-to-finish, sounding lovely at any time of day (early morning as the sun rises works for me) –– the duo of Anat Cohen and Marcello Gonçalves has created a delight-filled alternative to moping and negativity. One should feel cleansed after listening to this music!

For more information, go to To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Ânima":

Photo: Whitney George
There is something soothing about two steel-string guitarists playing through their way through a set of songs that makes you long for sitting around a fire soaking in the sounds.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh have played together for a number of years but never like they have over the eight-plus months it took the duo to record its second album, "Local Folklore" (Destiny Records).  Both players contributed five songs to the program and both recorded in their own studios.  Despite the "remote" recording, this music sounds bright, collaborative, highly melodic and harmonic with a wistful quality permeating the songs.  Mizell and Ruah are busy leaders on their own yet when they come together, their musical conversations feel like a respite from the road, a quiet evening lost in melody and stories.

That's what "Local Folklore" is, a melody-laden journey into the heart.  Mizell's title song leads off the program on a uptempo note,, the strumming guitars setting the pace for the well-crafted melody and the fine, articulate, solos that follow. Rauh's "Petey & Kyle" follows with its Beatles-like melody just begging for words.  Yet, you can tell this is a story of two friends walking through life together   Still, Mizell's pieces also have stories connected to them whether. When you just sit and listen, you probably know people who the guitarists describe with their instruments and melodies.

Mizell switches to electric on several tracks mostly for the sustain and effects that add atmosphere and an orchestral feel to pieces such as Rauh's "A Forgiving Sort of Place" and lovely "Arolen".   The sounds are not intrusive; instead they add a sense of shimmering light off a mountain lake to the songs.  On he album closing "On Sundays I Walk Alone", the overdubbed electric plays both rhythm and the theme while Rauh's acoustic plays counterpoint.

"Local Folklore" is music for early in the morning and late in the evening.  The melodies are soothing, the musicianship impressive, a cooperative journey into the human heart and soul.  Cameron Mizell and Charlie Rauh may have had to curtail their "live" shows in the pandemic but, judging by the quality of their new album, both musicians made good use of their time.  

For more information, go to and  To purchase the album, go to

Here's the sweet "Greenwood Waltz":  

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