You might be forgiven for thinking that an evening featuring a clarinet and piano duo in a jazz recital might have a limited appeal. It is, after all, an instrumental combination you’re not apt to come across very often. Indeed the clarinet itself has lost something of its cachet since the heydays of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Artie Shaw. Well, if you had been thinking that way about clarinetist Eddie Daniels and pianist Roger Kellaway’s February 25th concert recital at the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, you would have been wrong—wrong in a big way.
Daniels and Kellaway are two musicians who deserve to be much better known than they are, and the CD release of that February concert by IPO Recordings could do much to remedy that. This is not their first collaboration, they worked together on the critically acclaimed 2009 album, A Duet of One, an album Bilboard lauded as “a wondrous duet date featuring extraordinary musicians taking chances and thankfully succeeding on all levels.” Live at the Library of Congress makes it clear that that previous album was no fluke. Two fine albums should mean something. These are albums where the dialogue between the clarinet and the piano is at times playful and quirky, at times lyrically mellow, at times technically brilliant, and always musically inventive. These men are virtuosos with their instruments and they know how to work together.
This was an exciting concert and it makes for an exciting album. The set list, nine pieces in all, is a mix of original compositions three by Kellaway, one by Daniels and works by a variety of other composers from Thelonius Monk to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. They begin with an eight and a half minute romp through the Gershwin’s “Strike up the Band,” treating the familiar tune with some a variety of inventive rhythms. They end with a Kellaway piece, “50 State Rambler,” which alternates familiar sounding lines with edgy modernism. In between, there’s an unlikely funky exploration of “America the Beautiful” and a lyrically expressive version of “Somewhere” from Westside Story.
Kellaway’s pieces show a similar kind of variety. There’s the simple lyricism of “A Place That You Want to Call Home” and the dynamic energy of his “Capriccio Twilight.” Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” with a clarinet quotation or two makes for a moment of wit and some of the accompanying grunts might remind you of Lionel Hampton. “Etude of a Woman,” Daniels’ tune, is combined with Sondheim’s “Pretty Woman.” It has a haunting melody that seems strangely familiar.
The World Clarinet Alliance called the event a “landmark concert.” In a Jazz CD Review of A Duet of One, Tony Augarde says: “Daniels and Kellaway fit together like hand-in-glove.” Perhaps that is one way of making sense out of the album’s cryptic paradoxical title, and if it was true then, it was equally true in February. The concert at the Library of Congress is nothing short of an eye-opening revelation. You can take a clarinet and a piano, put them on a stage alone together, and make wonderful music. You can, that is, if you’ve got Eddie Daniels playing that clarinet and Roger Kellaway playing that piano.