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Guitarist Michael Musillami and pianist Peter Madsen waited 18 years to record a follow-up to their well-received 2002 duet album, Part Pitbull. Pictures proves that the time between collaborations has not hurt one iota. Over the course of 19 tracks, the duo displays its innate chemistry, composing prowess and distinctive instrumental voices.
Pieces alternate between brief improvisations called “Promenades” and composed tunes that pay tribute to the tandem’s favorite pianists and guitarists. Honorees range from Cecil Taylor and Dave Brubeck to Joe Diorio and John Abercrombie, and reveal the partners’ catholic tastes.
Each composition is enlivened by the duo’s spirited improvisational give-and-take, which flirts with free jazz but never devolves into gratuitous noise or pointless noodling. “Randy Weston,” imbued with an African tinge, is built on Madsen’s low, rumbling chord riffs, which Musillami punctuates with spiky chords and licks. “Thelonious Monk” evokes the same melodic playfulness of its namesake. For “Jim Hall,” the players engage in a cagey call-and-response.
[caption id="attachment_33954" align="alignleft" width="300"] Peter Madsen[/caption]
Musillami works the strings hard, with an aggressive staccato attack and stinging tone that lends the music a real edge. He plays each note with purpose, not just as part of a riff or line, and routinely pushes the music outside harmonic boundaries and into daring terrain. Madsen often works in chordal clusters but can also cut loose with fleet, discordant lines. The two players’ inherent styles fully complement each other. The Promenades add vitality and surprise. They run the gamut — “Promenade 3,” a contentious scrum; “Promenade 5,” a few spare piano notes with long spells of silence; “Promenade 10,” a hyperactive game of catch.
In all, Pictures is an invigorating ride with plenty of swerves — an album full of compelling texture, telepathic interplay, dueling improvisations and badass solos. — Eric Snider