Stephen Jones is the Director of Jazz Studies and Associate Professor at Texas Tech University and the coordinator of the Texas Tech/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival. He has played with artists including Dave Brubeck, Conti Candoli, Maynard Ferguson, Slide Hampton, and Tom Harrell.
Ben Haugland is an Associate Professor at Texas Tech University. Haugland has played with jazz artists including Randy Brecker, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, Bob Mintzer, Curtis Fuller, and Billy Hart. He has received nine DownBeat awards, including "Best Instrumental Jazz Soloist."
In a recent email (July 8, 2023), Jones describes that he and Haugland have played in duo settings before and "... enjoyed the contrast between the freedom that it offers and the challenge that it presents". The album consists of well-chosen standards and five songs written by Stephens or Haugland.
The songs allow for rich harmonic soloing. The duo is joined on two compositions by trumpeter and colleague Kevin Whalen.
There is a natural sound to this album from because it was recorded live on a concert stage without isolation booths or an audience. The hall's resonance was captured and the tenor saxophone and the piano are extraordinarily recorded.
Kudos to the engineer, Hideki Isoda. The album consists of complete takes without any overdubbing. Only musicians having intimate rapport can pull off an album like this.
The song "Silhouette" includes guest trumpeter, Kevin Whalen. The trumpet and saxophone play as if they were two silhouettes or cutouts moving apart and then overlapping with each other.
The saxophone is shifted ever so slightly from the trumpet. Other times they coincide with each other. Both simultaneously float over the piano's voicings. After a tasteful piano solo, the silhouettes of the horns merge.
"Milestones" by John Lewis shows the intimate knowledge of the song by both artists. Jones takes an expressive tenor solo and stretches out. The piano is tasteful underneath and then Haugland solos.
They come back to the melody and close it out gracefully with two voices as one. This is a stellar performance of a beautiful song.
On "Autumn in New York", trumpeter Whelan shows his familiarity with this tune and shares in the rapport that Haugland and Jones have. After a piano introduction, the trumpeter states the theme at a languorous pace controlling the notes perfectly.
He then finishes with soothing trumpet trills at the end of the phrases. The tenor sax re-states the theme with a breathy intro that fits well with the piano. They both follow each other into a lower register. The tenor continues the breathy style followed by the trumpet playing variations. This is a homage to Ben Webster's style.
These are excellent musicians that mesh well together. Haugland's piano and soloing are integral to their sound, carrying much of the weight. This is a joyful album to listen to. It is engaging, upbeat, and interesting without the rigor some duets require of the listener.