Duologue, the orchestral duo of master musicians saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Lewis Nash, brings to mind poet William Blake's famous line "a world in a grain of sand." Less can be more, and less can be less, and in this musical collaboration, less is much much more.
A duo of saxophone and drums (with no bass or chordal instrument) is more common, in general, in the avant-garde wing of the jazz spectrum. The superb musicianship of Wilson and Nash, with their deep roots in both the history of their instruments and in the tradition, as well as their unusual repertoire and arrangements, give this duo a wonderfully rare and original flavor.
Wilson describes the duo as "like flying without a net, but having complete trust in the music and my musical partner Lewis Nash. We speak the same language, and hear the music the same, and we constantly surprise ourselves." With this underlying foundation of trust, this duo (born in 2001) has continued to explore and build on their shared musical values, so that even though they are playing many well-known tunes, this is truly "free" music.
That said, this very thoughtfully conceived outing has great appeal for a wide range of listeners, from the novice to the most sophisticated. On a fundamental level, Duologue both sings and dances: the music sounds great and also feels great, on every track. As gracious hosts, Wilson and Nash draw the listener in with the warmth, intrigue, humor and drama of their highly personalized playing. No track overstays its welcome, and Nash often signals the beginning of a new chorus with marvelously creative changes of texture. And because both Wilson and Nash trust in the considerable power and depth of what they play, they can let the rests and silence speak. Moreover, by letting the music breathe, and avoiding the temptation to overplay — a common pitfall in this context — this duo sounds both full and complete.
Amongst so many musical highlights, there are some worth particular mention: the spectacular purity and beauty of Wilson's tone: passionate, modern and also very soulful; the tremendously creative array of colors that Nash achieves on sticks, brushes, mallets and hands, all within the beautiful dance of his grooves; the terrific sense of fun in the "come hither" almost burlesque vibe of the duo's version of Duke Ellington's "The Mooche;" the profoundly playful quality — and just as important, the beauty — inherent in Thelonious Monk's music, in their two Monk medleys; the great energy and power of Wilson's original tune "Black Gold," a tribute to Pittsburgh's rich cultural heritage and its beloved sports teams and heroes; Nash's playing of the melody on his solo outing of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," and the tempo change he makes midway, that provides the listener with the same surprise and pleasure of a modulation to a different key; the duo's witty "shout chorus" on Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You," before the closing melody.
Above all, Duologue is a rich, continuous and non-sequitur-free conversation between two superb musicians. I could eavesdrop on them forever.
—Leslie Pintchik, New York City, 2014