(Jazzline D 77069. CD review by Peter Bacon)
As liner notes man Bill Milkowski explains, pianist Jim Beard and guitarist Jon Herington have been session players in New York for over 30 years, and they have played on each other’s albums. In addition they have taken their positions on opposite sides of the stage as part of the Steely Dan touring band for the last 11 (Beard) to 20 (Herington) years. A duo album was the logical thing to do.
And, to a certain extent, what you hear is, if you are a follower of Steely Dan or a compulsive reader of personnel lists on studio jazz/rock albums, what you would expect to hear. There is probably no single a reason why neither Beard nor Herington has had what you might call a stellar career in their own right. It’s partly about luck, partly about needing to pay the rent, but maybe it’s also about being hugely competent but not hugely original musicians? I will leave you to come to your own judgment.
But what of Chunks And Chairknobs? It’s a mix of original and covers: two apiece from the players; two standards, Baubles, Bangles And Beads and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; a Bill Evans blues; and, naturally, a Dan tune.
The pair are at their best concentrating on the interplay and attempting to solve the problems of combining two functionally similar instruments on their own tunes – witty, impossible to categorise, rhythmically astute and often taking fresh melodic twists and turns. They are pretty good picking the funny bits out of Evans’ Loose Blues (my favourite track) or redrawing the chord shapes of Kern’s … Dat Man along more Dannish lines. Perhaps this is because it means they can naturally work where they are most comfortable, in the cracks between genres, making neither jazz, nor pop, nor bossa, but just Beard/Herington music. They are at their least best when they attempt to be pure jazz players, as on Baubles…; they end up playing the kind of impeccable “let’s do all the right things” improvisations you might hear as part of a jazz tutorial package: Hey kids, this is what Jim and Jon play over the changes!
However, they wait till last to serve up the biggest disappointment: the Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and (which must be stated for legal reasons!) Keith Jarrett tune, Gaucho. They choose to play it relatively straight, making an instrumental version which sticks fairly tightly to the original. One finds oneself forced to sing the lyric in one’s own private karaoke – “Who is the Gaucho amigo, in his faded leather poncho and his alligator shoes?” – in order to make it more exciting. I’m not sure what I expected them to do with possibly my favourite Dan song, but certainly more rather than less.
With a few more listens, and now reduced expectations, I find I am enjoying this modest album from two very skilled and unassuming men a bit more. But I have got into the habit of hitting stop before the final track.
Chunks And Chairknobs will be available as both CD and LP from Friday 15 November.