Bassist Jeff Johnson and multi-reedist Hans Teuber have a musical and personal friendship that goes back to the late eighties when both first arrived in the northwest outpost that is the city of Seattle. The jazz scene in the Pacific Northwest has always been prolific, though to many, a hidden gem outside of the main pulse of jazz cities such as New York and Chicago. In many ways, Deuce, is a snapshot of 30 years of musical give and take, expressed in the most honest and vulnerable way possible—performing as a duo.
Johnson left his native Minneapolis at age 20, spending time in New York and Philadelphia paying dues with the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Rouse, Chet Baker, and Barney Kessel to mention but a few. After arriving in Seattle, he met pianist Jessica Williams in '91, and Hal Galper in '93, beginning his amazing run as a first call working musician. With Galper, Johnson, along with drummer John Bishop, revolutionized the piano trio form with Galper's rubato approach, creating an elasticity to time between the three musicians.
Teuber grew up as the son of musicians and educators in South Carolina, not a place the casual jazz fan would see as a jazz hot spot. "I was in a bebop pocket, playing with 60-year olds," recalls Teuber. "They were telling me, 'Miles and Coltrane ruined jazz, Clifford Brown, that's the shit. Long lines, not this artsy shit, Zoot Sims, swing it.' " A long-distance relationship with a woman in Vancouver BC led him through Seattle, meeting Johnson, Bishop, and others, inevitably finding his comfort zone in the Puget Sound region.
Through various gigs and jam sessions, Johnson and Teuber developed a musical partnership, and a strong friendship. Beginning with Johnson's 1994 recording The Art of Falling (Origin, 2001), the two explored their distinctive voices and approach to improvisation on five Johnson releases. Free (Origin, 1997) came to be after a three year hiatus from the studio, soon to be followed by Tall Stranger (Origin, 2002), Near Earth (Origin, 2004), and Suitcase (Origin, 2011). Over that period of time, a sense of trust, open-mindedness, and fearless adventurism developed between these two dynamic musical souls, leading to sessions this past year at Skoor Sound in Seattle. For Teuber, this record is a culmination of inevitable creative trust. "I'm on all his recordings, but finally we recorded as a duo, and it's really beautiful stuff," he says, expressing great admiration and respect for Johnson, an innovator of melodic improvisation on the double bass. Teuber continues, "He really helped me find myself, and still does."
The art of the duo exposes an artist's vulnerability, throws caution to the wind, and flows much like a conversation would. The rhythm and cadence is reflective of the moment, of the feeling and inspiration of the now. That spirit comes across loud and clear on Deuce, through ten compositions, both original and standard.
Johnson has always had a bit of country blues in his playing, drawing from time spent in Texas and Oklahoma. So the choice of the Jimmy Reed classic, "Bright Lights, Big City" bears a sense of familiarity for the trailblazing bassist. He lays down a foundational, boogie bass line enhanced with chordal clusters so identifiable within the lexicon of his historic and identifiable sound. Teuber's modal voicings are expressed in a whisper, in a breathy growl, drifting in and out of the melody in myriad tonal variances.
The Carl Fischer standard "You've Changed " is perhaps the straightest interpretation on the record, yet personifies the approach to improvisation throughout the recording. While the playing may be heard by some as avante-garde, or outside, Johnson and Teuber play loosely within harmonic structure, always alluding to melody, giving the listener a lifeline to grasp hold of.
The approach to Teuber's "Rain Makes Applesauce," named after the Julian Scheer children's book, is similar. There is a definitive statement of melody accentuated by Johnson's harmonic underpinning. Both musicians improvise on the melody line in a fleeting, yet descriptive way. The melodic drift is both musical and meditative in nature.
The Johnson/Teuber piece, "Hopi Dream" features Teuber on alto flute. The melody and improvised voicings are both mysterious and beautiful, like the ancestral Anasazi chants that permeated Hopi culture. Johnson's playing is like a grounding, thunderous tempest Illuminating the prayer-like atmospheric cries of Teuber. There is something spiritual in its ethereal, heavenly sound.
Long time friends are special in that time can never dull those experiences that led to that intimate rapport rooted in love, trust and respect. That truth is present throughout Deuce. Like a narrative based on what seems like a lifetime of dialogue, this record requires the same undivided focus as a listener that one would lend to a conversation with an old and dear friend. It takes you to the upper stratosphere of consciousness, without relinquishing an enduring taproot reaching to the depths of the blues.