Album review: Two-Fer – The 2016

Two – fer; To The Surface and First Date
Dorian Ford
Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

3-5 out of 5

As promised here is the second review of recent recordings by the London based pianist and composer Dorian Ford.

“Two-fer”, released in 2015, is literally a ‘two for the price of one’ recording, the title also cunningly referencing the names of the two projects documented on this single disc, “To The Surface”, a collection of six solo piano pieces, and “First Date”, a series of duets with guitarist Jonny Phillips.

“To The Surface” was made in collaboration with the visual artist Tim Maguire and was premièred at St. James Theatre as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. It represents Ford’s first solo piano recording since 2002, a collection of performances simply titled “Piano”.

Initially classically trained Ford studied jazz at Berklee College of Music in the USA and the music of this versatile pianist has always sought to blur genre boundaries with folk and blues also among his range of influences.

Initially performed as a response to Maguire’s animated visual images the music that comprises “To The Surface” is often atmospheric and gently impressionistic with Ford combining a feathery, classically honed, lightness of touch with an improviser’s way with a narrative arc. But there’s more to the music than mere prettiness, even though much of it is very beautiful, with Ford continuing to achieve the goals of “stillness and purity of sound” that he set for himself on the “Piano” album.

The opening track “Warsaw Promises” includes some judicious but atmospheric ‘under the lid’ playing that occasionally threatens to ruffle the otherwise calm waters. “Marc’s Danse” ripples gently in impressionistic fashion while the less complex “To The Surface” features one of Ford’s most beautiful and engaging melodic motifs. I’ve chosen the aquatic imagery intentionally, accounts of the St. James Theatre performance speak of Maguire’s visuals capturing the play of water, light and colour.

The slight gospel tinge of “Csik Says Flow” exhibits something of the Keith Jarrett influence that informed “Piano”. This piece plus the following “Sparkle Moves”, a dedication to the late dance expert Barbara Sparti, are both more straightforward and melodic than either of the two opening pieces, qualities that are maintained into the closing “Fathers And Songs”.

Something of the mood generated by the solo performances of “To The Surface” is continued on “First Date”, a recording of the first gig performed by the duo of Ford and guitarist and composer Jonny Phillips.

Phillips is probably best known as the leader of the group Oriole with whom he has released three excellent albums, Song For The Sleeping” (2005), “Migration” (2006, my personal favourite) and “Every New Day (2012). Oriole’s music blends jazz with various world musics and Phillips has an extensive knowledge of the folk music of Iberia and South America, particularly that of Spain, Venezuela and Brazil. He has spent long periods away from the UK jazz scene living in Andalucia where he has immersed himself in flamenco and other musics. As a result Phillips remains relatively unknown in the UK and has been somewhat under recorded. That said the three Oriole albums offer more than ample evidence of his abilities as both a musician and composer.

“First Date” begins with the Phillips tune “Calle Cruz”,the title doubtless sourced from his travels. At first the piece sounds like a continuation of “To The Surface”,  beginning as it does with a passage of solo piano, but Ford is soon joined by the the sound of Phillips’ finger picked acoustic guitar. The piece demonstrates both Phillips’ gift for melody and the easy, instinctive rapport of the two musicians as the piano and guitar lines intertwine. There’s a cleanly picked solo from Phillips and the album also credits Seb Rochford, who has once a member of Oriole and who has also collaborated with Ford, with “ghost drums”. Any contribution from Rochford is subliminal and it may be that the two musicians merely wished to acknowledge his influence.

Ford’s own melodic gift is demonstrated on “The Dance”, a song written by the pianist and one of his most regular collaborators, the esteemed vocalist Carol Grimes. There’s an appropriately song like quality about this instrumental performance with its blues and folk influences which features Ford’s expansive but melodic solo above the brisk strum of Phillips’ guitar. The guitarist’s own playing has a Metheny like melodic quality, one could imagine Pat and Lyle Mays performing duets like this in their quieter, more intimate moments.

Phillips’ guitar takes the lead on his own “Carnival Rain”, another delightfully melodic composition that effortlessly maintains the air of fragile beauty created by these two masterful musicians.

The inclusion of Claude Debussy’s “La Fille Aux Chevaux De Lin” is a reminder of the classical backgrounds of both these musicians. Their atmospheric arrangement of the familiar melody is beautiful and effective and represents a good staging post between the more obviously Latin material either side of it.

The melody of the traditional tune “La Comparsa” also sounds familiar, possibly because there was once a version of it recorded by The Shadows! Ford and Phillips treat it with greater reverence on their delightfully intimate duo version with the focus very much on the beauty of the melody.

The great Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti was doubtless an influence on Phillips, and possibly Ford as well, and a beautiful version of his tune “Salvador” is featured here with Ford and Phillips dovetailing brilliantly as well as taking turns to embellish Gismonti’s lovely melody.

This section of the disc concludes with a solo piano performance and Ford’s elegiac and elegant rendition of his own composition “Thinking Of You”.

“Two-fer” is a more specialised disc than Ford’s recent quartet album “Sharing” and may hold less all round appeal to the average jazz listener but it still has much to recommend it. Ford’s solo piano pieces, whether composed or improvised, exhibit a quiet beauty of their own whilst his series of duets with Phillips are a real delight. For me it’s always good to hear Phillips play and hopefully this collaboration will continue to develop and grow and prove to be more than just an inspired ‘one off’.The two musicians combine extremely effectively, forming an excellent team but also allowing plenty of room for individual expression. There’s genuine rapport, genuine respect and a palpable chemistry between the players.

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