Review: Josh Deutsch Nico Soffiato Duo “Time Gels”

Josh Deutsch Nico Soffiato Duo “Time Gels”

10 Jun, 2011 Matt Warnock

Jazz duos come in all shapes, colors, textures and timbres.  From the classic voice and piano duo, to the double-guitar teams of legendary performers such as Herb Ellis and Joe Pass, or the more modern Joe Diorio and Mick Goodrick, and everything in between.  Jazz performers have long loved the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic freedom that the duo setting provides, and many have produced some of the most enduring records of the entire genre in this format, the great duo records of Jim Hall and Bill Evans come to mind in this category.  Two young lions who have recently delved into the realm of the jazz duo are trumpeter Josh Deutsch and guitarist Nico Soffiato, and their new album Time Gels is an elegant, fresh take on this timeless tradition.

When performing in a duo, mostly due to the lack of other musicians, one has to bear in mind that contrasting textures and musical diversity are the key elements when programming a successful record.  This lesson has not been lost on Deutsch and Soffiato, as the duo mixes countless timbres and many different grooves, harmonic ideas and feels throughout Time Gels.  There are simple, yet effective, ostinato based moments in songs such as the album’s opener “De Sidera,” where the duo kicks off the track with an ear-grabbing repeated line that is played on the seldom used, yet beautiful sounding, baritone guitar by Soffiato.  The song then moves into a weaving melodic line that floats over some tricky and interesting harmonic changes.

Proving that they aren’t one-trick ponies, the duo can also lay down a jazzy groove, such as the Waltz-like track “Topanga Canyon.”  Here, the listener catches a glimpse of the duo’s standard jazz vocabulary, at least their interpretation of the jazz tradition.  There are moments where one can follow the lineage of each performer, who they’ve studied and where they’ve come from musically, yet it is always projected through the lens of their own personalities.  This yin and yang, mixing recognizable rhythms and phrases with a unique approach to the genre, is one of the biggest reasons why this album is so successful, and why each player has managed to make a name for themselves in the crowded, modern-jazz world.

Branching off into a more contemporary, dissonant flavor, the duo showcases their love and deep understanding of modern jazz with the song “Time Gels #2.”  Here we find the duo at their experimental best.  Beginning with a free-flowing introduction by Soffiato that brings to light his openness as a musician, as well as his endless trough of melodic ideas, the song then melds into an ostinato bass-line and melody performed by Deutsch on the trumpet.  The interaction between both musicians is exemplary, running the gamut from soloist and accompaniment, to both players gelling at the highest level.  One of the most interesting moments on this track, or any on the album, is the Flamenco clapping that enters in the last third of the piece. With the trumpet playing a repeated melodic fragment, the clapping elevates the music to new heights of interest, leading the listener into unexpected, yet fully appreciated rhythmic territory.  Again, this is another example of the duo taking a chance with a new texture, and hitting the nail square on the head.

There is always the sense that musicians are taking a chance when they perform in a duo setting, that the music could become monotonous or that it can get too far out that the listener’s becomes lost in the musicians’ experimentation, but it is albums like this that show time and again why the duo is such a strong format for the jazz genre.  These two musicians perform as a cohesive unit, with improvisational vigor and mature musicianship, all elements that are needed to produce a record of the highest caliber.

Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)