Given that duos and duets are all about harmony, it is surprising how many actually fall by the wayside exactly because this harmony is what they lack. But not—certainly not—this duo between tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer and pianist Don Thompson, who have made this enthralling record Look for the Silver Lining. This is a recording that evokes the hushed beauty and the nuanced colours and the dimly-lit intimacy of the recordings—albeit trio ones—made by the great reeds and woodwinds player Jimmy Giuffre with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow. Despite the obvious difference in the numerical setting the recording is magically comparable because of the extraordinary timekeeping and bass line melodicism of Don Thompson. And yet that should come as no real surprise. Mr. Thompson is a true rarity in the world of music; someone who is made so completely of music that he seems to exude song and dance; melody and harmony and rhythm. He is truly a person of musical genius, blessed with a musical intellect and hands that can embrace instruments as diverse as the piano, the bass and the vibes and heaven knows what else, should he decide to put his mind to it.
Mr. Thompson’s playing on Look for the Silver Lining is transcendent. His sweeping two-handed lines leap and frolic like a pair of excited impalas that occasionally also dart from plane to musical plane, their boundless energy a reminder that natural beauty is both raw and refined. This is also reminiscent of the great players who once employed the bebop metaphor in an era long past, but impossible to live down. Mr. Thompson’s rousing arpeggios and runs telescope, one into the other, in the manner that describes the music of Herbie Nichols. But, of course the music is singularly his own. Its brilliance rings radiantly in “If I Were a Bell,” is melancholy, yet strangely uplifting in “Autumn Nocturne” and really effervescent in Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave.” It takes almighty skill to negotiate the improvisations that Mr. Thompson does in “You And The Night And The Music,” as the narrative moves with almost viscous sensuality through the bodies seemingly entwined in that song. And there is an elemental sadness in the exquisite beauty of “I’ll Be Around.” However, it should be stressed here that he is not alone in emotion and dazzling virtuosity. The saxophonist Phil Dwyer meets Mr. Thompson more than halfway during all of the music.
It does pay to remember this is duo recording and no one is more mindful of this than the players themselves—especially Phil Dwyer. Here is a musician of immense charm, obvious talent and extraordinary responsiveness. Don Thompson may be the senior partner here, but this is merely a matter of chronology. Mr. Dwyer is every bit the epitome of great beauty, astounding virtuosity and singular style. His music comes from deep with his body; from the pit of his stomach and the bottom of his lungs. Make no mistake, this requires an almost supernatural bonding with both the instrument and mind and body. Moreover Mr. Dwyer’s playing is moist and warm. His tone, additionally, is full of the rusts and burgundies of the earth, which suggest that the saxophonist employs a palette that is broad and somewhat beyond the scope of his instrument. He seems to sing, almost vocally as he blows his big horn from somewhere deep within his soul. Mr. Dwyer is an emotional player, who wears his feelings on his sleeve that is almost moist with tears at times, as it is in “What’s New?” And that is not the only place where Mr. Dwyer excels.
The fact is: this is a duet where musicians are entwined like the double helix. Developing this musical molecule requires that both musicians sing and listen as well. The soaring aspect of the music—in “You And The Night And The Music,” or “I’ll Be Around”—for instance, indicates that there is something special going on in the music of this recording. It is not easy to pin point magical relationships. Suffice it to say that this is one, where genius meets skill; where technique melts into and sustains the raw and deep emotion that swirls into the music of this priceless record.
Track List: If I Were A Bell; Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry; Just You Just Me; Autumn Nocturne; How About You?; What’s New?; You And The Night And The Music; I’ll Be Around; Touch Of Your Lips; Au Privave.
Personnel: Phil Dwyer: tenor saxophone; Don Thompson: piano.
Label: Triplet Records | Release date: February 2014
About Phil Dwyer
On Dec. 30, 2013 Phil Dwyer was appointed as a Member of the Order Of Canada. He was cited for “his contributions to jazz as a performer, composer and producer, and for increasing access to music education in his community.” This comes as Dwyer looks back at an illustrious 30 year career which has crossed stylistic and geographic borders and has included collaborations with a storied roster of great musical artists.
His full time music career started in the summer 1985 at age 19, as a member of Hugh Fraser’s award winning quintet, and the big band VEJI from 1985-90, and also with the David Friesen Trio from ’87-90. With the Fraser quintet Dwyer won the Concours de Jazz Alcan at the 1987 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the 1988 Juno Award for best jazz album, and appeared across Canada, the New York Blue Note, at the Paris Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott’s in London, and elsewhere in Europe and the U.K.
From 1989-2004 Dwyer lived in Toronto, where he was a key fixture in the major jazz clubs and recording studios. Tom Harrell, Red Rodney, Renee Rosnes, Ingrid Jensen, Marcus Belgrave and, several times, Kenny Wheeler all called upon him to join them on their Toronto visits and as well Dwyer led his own various groups, and co-led bands with bassist Dave Young, multi-instrumentalist and composer Don Thompson, and pianist/organist Doug Riley. Bassist Young, well known for his long tenure with Oscar Peterson had this to say about working with Dwyer…..”Phil Dwyer, in my estimation, is one of the great tenor players of jazz. We worked together in several groups while Phil lived in Toronto and he always brought fantastic energy and creativity to the musical setting we were involved in. He is a complete musician – a pianist and composer/arranger as well as a reed player. It would be difficult to over- estimate the natural talent and commitment of this artist.” While keeping a busy schedule as a performer and ‘first-call’ studio musician in Toronto scene Phil also found time to travel and perform across North America, Europe, South America, and Asia, including tours with pop music icon Gino Vannelli, trumpet star Ingrid Jensen and with his own groups.
Dwyer has also been active as an educator since 1989 when, at age 23, he joined the faculty at York University in Toronto, where he remained for 11 years. He has also appeared as a guest lecturer/clinician at University Of Toronto, Humber College, University Of Manitoba, McGill University, Clackamas Community College, Arizona State University, Royal Academy of Music (London) countless high schools across North America, and at some of the leading music academies in Denmark. He has also been a visiting faculty member at the prestigious Banff Centre in 2009/10/11. Since 2005 he has owned and operated the Phil Dwyer Academy of Musical And Culinary Arts on Vancouver Island, where he has returned in 2004.
In addition to his career in music Dwyer has frequently and passionately advocated for greater awareness of mental health issues. He will also enter his first year of law studies at UNB Fredericton in September of 2014.
About Don Thompson
Donald (Don) Thompson (pianist, bassist, vibraphonist, composer, arranger, producer, and educator) was born January 18, 1940 in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada. After taking piano lessons as a young child, he took up the string bass and the vibraphone in his teens, all instruments on which he is basically self-taught. He moved to Vancouver in 1960 and began his career as a professional musician. During the period between 1960 and 1965, Thompson appeared with groups led by some of Vancouver’s finest musicians including Dave Robbins, Fraser McPherson, and Chris Gage.
In 1965 he joined the now legendary John Handy Quintet and moved to San Francisco for a two year stint. During that time the Handy Quintet performed extensively throughout North America, and recorded two albums for Columbia Records. One of them, John Handy Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival, became one of the most popular jazz albums of the 1960s. While living in San Francisco, he also performed with jazz luminaries Maynard Ferguson, Frank Rosolino, George Duke, and Denny Zeitlin.
Thompson returned to Canada in 1967 and has resided in Toronto since 1969, the same year he became a member of Rob McConnell’s The Boss Brass, initially as percussionist, then switching to bass in 1971, and later to piano from 1987 to 1993. He was also a member of Moe Koffman’s group from 1970 to 1979, first as bassist and later as pianist/arranger. He worked with Koffman as co-producer on two album recording projects: Museum Pieces and Things Are Looking Up. Throughout the same period, he was also busy working with guitarists Sonny Greenwich, Ed Bickert, and Lenny Breau, as well as various projects of his own. As a member of the house rhythm section at Toronto’s legendary Bourbon Street jazz club, Thompson worked with a legion of jazz celebrities including Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, James Moody, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Frank Rosolino, Slide Hampton, Lee Konitz, and Abbey Lincoln, also appearing in other Toronto venues with Sarah Vaughan, Red Rodney, Joe Henderson, Dewey Redman, Red Mitchell, Sheila Jordan, and Kenny Wheeler.
Thompson became a member of guitarist Jim Hall’s trio in 1974, traveling to Europe and Japan (twice) as well as touring the United States and Canada. He Joined pianist George Shearing in 1982 for a five-year period during which he appeared at virtually every major jazz club and festival in the United States as well as touring Great Britain and Brazil. He has been a member of the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra since its formation. In 1997 he wrote and/or arranged all of the music on the CD The Elders Are Listening, produced by Brian Lillos for Humber College. The same year he organized a band called the Banff Alumni Jazz Ensemble, and wrote all the music for and produced the band’s CD Celebration. In 1998 he toured Canada with the Banff Alumni Jazz Ensemble band playing all of the Canadian jazz festivals. In February of 1999, he arranged the music and led the band in a concert of Duke Ellington music for the CBC at the Glenn Gould Theatre in Toronto. Late the same year he played Carnegie Hall as a member of the George Shearing Quintet, this time on the vibraphone, and continued to work with him until Shearing retired in 2004.
In July 2000, Don Thompson was a featured artist with Jim Hall for a series of four concerts at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. In October of that year he went to New York for a week to play at the famed Birdland with the George Shearing Quartet, with recorded performances that week resulting in TELARC Records’ release of the critically-acclaimed Back to Birdland CD. In early 2007, Thompson was commissioned to compose a piece for Cellist Coenraad Bloemendal and Harpist Erica Goodman for their latest CD recording. The work, “Reflections,” was so well received that the recording came to be titled by the same name. In September of 2007, he produced one half of a concert for CBC Radio (Canada Live) that which featured his Quartet performing his own jazz adaptations of some of the music of J.S. Bach. The concert was broadcast live worldwide. Later in the fall, he led an all-star Jazz Quintet in a concert tribute to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s Massey Hall Concert, an event which was recorded for subsequent broadcast on JAZZ.FM91.
As a dedicated jazz educator, Don Thompson began teaching annually at the Banff Jazz Summer Workshop in 1982. He has also taught at York University, and for the past several years has been on the faculty of Humber College in Toronto, teaching in the school’s Degree program.
In 2013, Don and Phil Dwyer released Look for the Silver Lining, a piano / saxophone duo album. It was nominated for JUNO in 2014.
In 2013, Don Thompson and Neil Swainson released “Tranquility” on Cornerstone Records. With Don on piano and Neil on bass, the recording includes jazz standards as well as songs by Charlie Parker, Kenny Wheeler, and Neil Swainson. (Source: tripletrecords.com)