Two ones Liner Notes

The title of this recording project by clarinetist Harry Skoler invites several interpretations. It could reference the tracks “Two Onderful” or “Two as One.” It could speak to the fact that this is a two-part recording, opening with seven pieces performed by jazz quintet, followed by eight more-intimate duos by Harry and longtime band-mate Ed Saindon, who is featured on piano rather than his better-known instrument, the vibes. But mostly, Two Ones is a project that celebrates the simpatico of Harry and Ed, who make very intuitive and personal music together. “It speaks to the combination of our individuality and teamwork as players,” Harry says. “It is a high-wire act. You have to be in sync emotionally and in the phrasing.”

Harry and Ed began working together in 1993 and very quickly discovered the affinity that makes their collaborations so enjoyable. “I think we are coming from the same musical place,” Saindon says.

Two Ones is Harry’s fourth recording as a leader, following Conversations in the Language of Jazz (1995), Reflections on the Art of Swing, a Tribute to Benny Goodman (1996) and A Work of Heart (1999). Three of the four projects have been collaborations with Ed.

Both men are on the faculty at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and their fine band-mates here also have Berklee faculty connections: bassist Barry Smith is a longtime faculty member; flute player Matt Marvuglio, who was on the Berklee faculty when Harry was a student there in the 1970s, is Dean of the Performance Division; and drummer Bob Tamagni is an associate professor of percussion. All have extensive performing credentials. “They are very sharp players. Their quiet confidence made this project a joy,” Harry says.

At its core, this recording is rooted in emotion, both as inspiration for each composition – and their heart-felt, vibrant and highly improvised delivery. The project had a special spirit. “It was not a matter of making the music happen, but allowing it to emerge from you,” Harry says. The late clarinetist, composer and bandleader Jimmy Giuffre, who was a teacher and mentor while Harry pursued his master's degree at New England Conservatory of Music in the 1980s, called that goal in music-making “stepping into a sea of feeling.”

Saindon wrote nine of the compositions and collaborated with Skoler on the other five. Most are ballads. Both writers say they were inspired by something real that touched them profoundly from everyday life. Nothing here was plucked out of the air – or a book of charts. It is helpful to know those inspirations in order to appreciate where the music is coming from – and where they take it.

Ed wrote the seven quintet tunes. “Leaves of Autumn” enabled him to add a new melody and reharmonize the chord changes to “Autumn Leaves” in order to create a nice mood with impact and emotion. He penned the lovely “Two as One” for his wife, Pam, as an expression of emotion, humanity and life itself. This quintet version, featuring Ed on vibes, is a change from its first appearance on Key Play, his 2005 duo album with pianist Kenny Werner. “Alpine Sunset,” Ed’s first shift to piano on this project, was inspired by a train ride Ed and Pam took through the Alps during a trip to Switzerland last year. Through Harry and Ed’s melodic interplay, you can hear the train climbing in elevation – and the breathtaking beauty of the moment.

“Joyful Sorrow” is performed twice on this CD, here by the quintet and later by the clarinet-piano duo. The title may sound like an oxymoron, but Ed disagrees. “To me, a lot of music is filled with emotion, even conflicting emotion. I tried to capture both sides”, he says. “You might hear it differently at different times, depending on who you are with.” The duo version (track 13) is more reflective and wistful, and reveals more of Harry and Ed’s uncanny and symmetrical unison playing. “Giorgio’s Theme” was written for the father of Marco Pacassoni, one of Ed’s former students who hails from Fano, Italy, a coastal city south of Venice. “I got to know Giorgio when I was doing a tour and some clinics. He and his family treated us royally,” Ed says. The vibes-clarinet combination here conjures a pleasant ride through the Italian countryside.

Ed wrote “Piazzolla” for Astor Piazzolla, whom he first heard when the “New Tango” master recorded with fellow-vibraphonist Gary Burton. He became fascinated with the Argentinean’s sound and musical expression. “We’re reaching for pure emotion and that‘s what Piazzolla was all about,” he says. The final quintet track, “Silent Serenity,” is intentionally somber to touch on the reflective side of human emotions. “I do a lot of writing in minor keys. They tend to have a lot of impact and are more powerful than major key tunes,” Ed says. The tune also became a very nice showcase for Marvuglio’s exquisite flute work. And what a joy to hear clarinet and flute playing in sync.

Harry was inspired to write the first of the session’s duo tunes, “Dad’s Clarinet,” for his father, Louis, who played classical clarinet from 1930 to 1941. He made an even more direct connection by playing it on his father‘s 1929 clarinet, which has a haunting, bittersweet tone. “This enabled me to focus o n the bigger picture,” Harry says. “It’s about what this gentle, humble man has lived through – and his influence on my life.”

“Song for Jessy” was inspired by the daughter of close friends. Harry says the girl was upset about something that happened at school one day. He sat down at the piano, played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and snapped her out of her melancholy. He never forgot the impact that the music had. Ed wrote “Life’s Dreams” because “everyone has dreams and that’s what keeps us going. It applies to anyone’s dreams,” he says. “Two Onederful” was inspired by Amelia, one of Harry’s two daughters. When she was young and recently adopted from China, he says she “didn’t want two of anything. She wanted one in each hand – she called it ‘two ones.’”

The inspiration for “Jenna’s Voice” was simply hearing Jessy’s sister’s voice on the telephone one day. “The child had such a musical voice on the phone,” Harry says. The duo version of “Joyful Sorrow” is followed by “Don’t Say Words,” which is dedicated to Harry’s other daughter, Gianna, who also is adopted from China. Harry says Gianna changed the lyrics to “don’t say words” when singing the lullaby “Mockingbird” (“Hush, little baby, don't say a word. Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird.”)

This splendid session closes with Ed’s tune, “Hope,” which he calls a song of great emotion. “It is very positive and was written to “leave the listener with a nice high,” he says. It was a treat to hear so much of Saindon’s piano playing on this CD, in addition to the pianistic approach that enriches his four-mallet technique on vibes.

“There is a sense of something profound at work when we play together,” Harry says. “I listen to the tracks and say, ‘These things sound very well rehearsed.’ They weren’t. We’re all soloing all the time, even when one person is stretching out. It’s all about the group sound.”

This project could have been called “Emotion” because that’s what it is all about: How emotion and friendship enable like-minded musicians to create something greater, stronger and deeper than even they could imagine.

-Ken Franckling, October 2008

(Veteran freelance jazz journalist and photographer Ken Franckling was United Press International’s jazz columnist for 15 years. He now writes for JazzTimes, Jazziz, HotHouse, and other publications.)