Dancing in the dark: CD

This review was published on: January 24th 2022

The following review is taken from the Winter 2021 issue of Clarinet & Saxophone magazine. For more reviews, news, and features from the single-reed world, join to receive our quarterly magazine and other membership benefits.



Tony Coe (clarinet) and John Horler (piano)

By any standard this is monster of a record – a triumph of music-making involving awesome playing technique, extraordinary improvisational skills and the harmonic exploration of some great tunes. Plus it documents a live performance (an unrehearsed, hour-long set in a church at the 2007 Appleby Jazz Festival), which is always the best way to extract incredible performances from those gifted with the talents of these two.

Wikipedia lists more than 150 items in Coe’s discography, ranging from 1957 with Humphrey Lyttleton to 2015 with the Danish Radio Big Band, wherein he delivers a broad spectrum of jazz styles on any single-reed instrument as well as flute. My own recollection of a gig in Slough (c. 1962) was of his splendid imitation of Lee Konitz, the Tristano-influenced altoist.

The eight tracks on this CD display Coe’s unique style of clarinet improvisation – nothing like a New Orleans jazzer, nor a Chicagoan, nor Benny, Artie, Buddy or Eddie! Coe’s style is characterised by rapid ascending and descending arpeggios across the entire range, with finely defined articulation of individual notes and a classical tone; his evident feel for underlying changes allowing him to add his own harmonic embellishments on top of the original chord sequences. Pianist John Horler is equally gifted in the same approach to improvisation, and there are heaps of examples on this CD of dual, simultaneous improv.

The first track, Bill Evans’s Person I Knew, is a contemplative ballad that demonstrates every good feature of the enterprise – teamwork, skill and entertainment value. The standards Night and Day and Body and Soul come next, introducing us to the duo’s harmonic developments that can be related to the probable scores of times they’ve played these pieces. Track 4, Some Other Autumn, is Coe’s contrafact version of Autumn Leaves, followed by Piece for Poppy, Horler’s piece dedicated to both his wife and John Keats. Track 6, Dancing in the Dark, is my favourite, with what I feel to be the best of the many excellent clarinet solos. Around in Three from Horler sports an interesting 3/4 tempo, before the last track, Blue Monk, makes a fulfilling 12-bar blues finale to a truly magnificent concert from an outstanding duo of musicians. Strongly recommended.

Kenneth Morris

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