Richard Fairhurst and John Taylor – Duets
(Basho Records. SRCD 49-2 . CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
Whilst this record pays tribute to three musicians, with tracks dedicated to, and tunes by, Kenny Wheeler, Pete Saberton and Bill Evans, it now also stands, sadly, as an epitaph to John Taylor, who died so suddenly last month. Listening to it, at first I was filled with sadness at the loss of such a talent, tempered by the feeling of hope at the legacy he has left behind, not least through his influence on younger musicians – such as Richard Fairhurst, Taylor’s junior by more than three decades. And yet this is above all an album of optimistic, thought-provoking and sometimes upbeat music.
Fairhurst and Taylor had played live several times together since they first collaborated in 2010, and before recording this album in September 2013. Fairhurst’s sleevenotes explain some of the process they went through to reach the stage of recording, with the aim of achieving “a blend within the overall sound of the music that had the unity of one instrument being heard – two pianos as one.” This they achieved: some might be able to separate the sound of the two musicians, but my ears aren’t up to the task. The instruments they used were two Steinway pianos – it was for the Steinway Two Pianos Festival that they first got together, and Steinway (Fairhurst is an endorsee) seem to have been instrumental in the recording in more ways than one.
The pianists share composition credits on two numbers, Epitaph to Sabbo, which precedes two pieces written by Pete Saberton, and Epitaph to Kenny (though it was recorded before Kenny Wheeler’s death), which precedes Wheeler’s Sly Eyes. These two epitaphs sound improvised, created as the pianists rehearsed together. Epitaph to Sabbo feels abstract in nature, with perhaps a hint to Erik Satie.
There are four tracks which together form a suite dedicated to Bill Evans, an ever-present influence on Taylor’s music, which starts with Taylor’s “Evans Above” and continues with three of Evans’ tunes. Though these may be familiar, Fairhurst and Taylor explore them together, taking us to some unexpected places.
Fairhurst contributes two compositions, Open Book and the rather lovely, gentle Growth in an Old Garden, which closes the CD.
The music throughout has a reflective quality, as if the pianists were having a conversation and seeing where it would take them. There are hints of them holding back, a gentle trepidation as if they were leaving some space to allow themselves to think. It is a fine CD.