David Roitstein and Larry Koonse: 'Conversations'

Transcendent jazz albums don't come along every day...

Playing duo is not for the faint at heart; in the exposed nature of the format, there’s nowhere to hide. Each musician needs to walk a near-constant tightrope between compelling dialogue and graceful accompaniment. Great examples include Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, Bill Evans and Jim Hall, Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, and now on their transcendent new release, Conversations, David Roitstein and Larry Koonse.

Pianist, composer, and educator Roitstein has anchored the CalArts Jazz Program since 1983. In teaming up with guitarist Koonse (also a CalArts educator), Roitstein has found a suitable sparring partner. Take the pair’s playful interplay on the album opener "Mamulengo," with each musician pushing the other into new harmonic and rhythmic depths. And on Thelonious Monk's "Think of One," Koonse's stride-like guitar comping proves the perfect bed for Roitstein's angular improv. The album's closer, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luiza," recalls the grace of Stanley Myers' theme from The Deer Hunter, "Cavatina," and is played with a reverence rarely heard on recordings nowadays. It's a fitting end to an album that surprises at every turn.