Kathleen Tagg and Andre Petersen Where Worlds Collide
(Table Pounding Records TP004. CD review by Jon Turney)
A delightfully fresh take here on a format that calls for sensitivity, perhaps even guile, if it isn’t to yield indigestible results – two grand pianos played vigorously, together.
Both pianists are South Africans who have travelled extensively: classical exponent Kathleen Tagg, who stayed in New York after doctoral studies at Manhattan School of Music, and jazz devotee Andre Petersen. Their collaboration isn’t really worlds colliding to my mind, though it has plenty of the drama that implies. Both players are open to many genres, and both are heirs to a lineage of South African jazz piano that already blends styles, harmonies and rhythms from three continents.
They underline that in this splendid set with pieces by Moses Molelekwa, Abdullah Ibrahim and Bheki Mseleku. After this homage to the ancestors, the remainder are by one of the performers, save for Ellington and Strayhorn’s Tonk, which becomes a kind of stride piano fantasia, and a new arrangement of the gorgeous South African standard Ntyilo Ntyilo slipped into Tagg’s As the Flowers Bloom.
The set is strong in rhythm, sometimes laid down by lightly prepared piano or from inside the instrument – those 88 tuned drums put to good use (usually Tagg at work here, I think). There’s chromatic and harmonic richness aplenty, too, as you’d expect from a keyboard duo. They honed their live work together in South Africa, and both write pieces for the duo that exploit their joint feel for an open-minded mix of traditions, and the bravura technique they also share. The results are reflective and exuberant, by turns, and enormously enjoyable throughout. We heard something a little like this around the turn of the millennium in a tragically short-lived collaboration between Molelekwa and Joanna MacGregor. It is good to hear the interweaving of African-American and European piano traditions given new life in another duo with skill and spirit to match.