|The natural rapport between Fefer and Bisio so audible at the core of the quartet date receives even greater scrutiny on a suite of duets released as Painting Breath, Stoking Fire. Fefer limits his palette to tenor, bass clarinet and flute while Bisio wields the same bass hobbled in the previous day’s catastrophe. The cobbled bridge holds despite his bold decision not to temper his attack with a delicate touch. That sort of fearless go-for-broke tenacity is also reflected in the album’s title, a phrase that conjures immediate connotations of energy music and the emancipatory improvisational spirit these two are operating from. Contrary to these roots, the results often mellow, draped in a shared contemplative cast that favors more solo space than interplay.
This time Fefer provides the compositional grist for the six tracks that comprise the suite, but his structures are open-ended and routinely encompass ample room for extemporaneous expression. Bisio in particular shines in the pared down surroundings. His tonal and harmonic ingenuity gives rise to another startling array of patterns and shapes starting with the pinging mbira sounds that accompany Fefer’s flute on “Ancestral Voices.” “BC Reverie/Inner Child” revolves around a perambulating ostinato line. The pair pause and detour frequently into alternating solo segments for thrumming and bowed bass and throaty bass clarinet occupying the expanse of a quarter hour.
“Love (Keepin’ On)” couples with “Rio Largo y Sinuoso” as a forum for first solo tenor then clarinet as Bisio snaps and plucks an underlying current of undulating rhythmic responses peppered with melodic asides. His closing statement is a marvel of digital agility and pizzicato acuity. The sparsity of the setting and further leanings toward individual expression contribute to the feeling of being a fly on the wall of a woodshed where two players are honing and stretching their chops. The results sometimes require patience in following their circuitous and ruminative structures, but the rewards attentive ears are manifold. Another loosely-tethered medley, the fourth track combines source material from four compositions into an excursion where the segues and shifts are both organic and seemingly off-the-cuff. Once again, the communication unfolds in a laidback, but never slipshod manner.
The recital caps with a solo tenor foray by Fefer reprising the melodic kernel of ”Love (Keepin’ On). He imbues the motif with a sense of robust optimism, one brightly reflected in the crackling fire that serves as periodic ambient commentary on the cuts. Though the conversation is a bit prolix and overly discursive in spots, this thoughtful conclave for two improvisationally-oriented minds still packs in plenty of interest. Bisio and Fefer don’t get together as much as they would like thanks mainly to geographical distances. This set and its quartet companion make a strong case for funding to facilitate their future collaborations. Musical partnerships this profound and productive simply shouldn’t be allowed to atrophy or expire.