Through all that’s changed in jazz in the last hundred or so years, quality interaction has always made great jazz great. A saxophonist’s line responding to a vocalist’s lyric, a drummer and bassist pushing and pulling the groove into the right feel. Solo albums sometimes fall flat for want of it, and large ensembles can give so much of it so freely that it almost becomes worthless noise. A duo album, such as Bram Weijters & Chad McCullough’s Feather, can suffer from both by not having enough people for new and varied interaction or by being so free together that it becomes over-reactive with interaction. Fortunately, Weijters and McCullough balance their interaction with groove and musicality as they string each song into a multifaceted gem of an album.
Amongst the many reasons to love this set of songs, one that really jumps out is being left always wanting more. In a world where most jazz albums feature songs between seven and eleven minutes long, it feels almost luxurious having multiple two- or three-minute statement tracks that say their bit and get out of the way for the next. Coming in at just over half an hour, one listen-through of this album is not a huge time commitment. However, digging into the nooks and crannies of “Different But the Same” or relaxing into several repeats of “Around and Around” may run you more time than you bargained for.
On these tracks, Belgian keyboardist Bram Weijters simultaneously embodies the effective DJ laying down grooves for an MC (“Solid”) and the creative conversationalist so badly desired from jazz pianists (“Endless Waiting”). As he balances these two roles, Chicago-based trumpeter Chad McCullough settles into his daunting task of providing that trumpet fire and energy (“Different Prelude”) without overpowering Weijters or the contemplative mood being so masterfully cultivated. At times, it can be difficult to sonically separate trumpet and keyboard as their perfectly aligned phrasing and technique blurs the line between the two instruments (“Conclusion”). It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to whom is blending their sound into the other, and the answer is the same as that age-old expression: their two sounds evolved together over the course of many years.
As they toured these songs around Europe, McCullough commented on the difference in demand on his musicianship. “Playing with Bram in this kind of setting is uniquely challenging and uniquely rewarding. We each have to bring a whole other set of skills to the table in order to make the music happen the way it really needs to happen.” And all that skill and hard work put in by these two comes out as an album speaking not only to the taste and musicianship of two creative artists, but also to the history of tasteful musical interaction in jazz.
Bram Weijters & Chad McCullough’s Feather is already out on ears&eyes Records.