The magic number in jazz is five. A rhythm section consisting of a piano, bass, and drums, and two horns or maybe a horn and a guitar. The rhythm section carries the listener aloft, while the horns take center stage. That describes most of my favorite jazz.
Trios can do almost as much, the piano or a big horn tells the story while the bass and drums set the stage. But the alchemy changes when it's just two instruments or a solo. In the case of a duet, one has a conversation rather than an ensemble. With a solo, one is alone together with the soloist and his line of notes. It requires attention.
I have been listening this week to a box set: the Art Ensemble of Chicago 1967/68. It is very edgy jazz, at the borders of page five avant garde. I am guessing that the box sold mostly to libraries, which is where I found mine. Some of it is nonsense. But the whole thing is worth listening to. Here is a bass solo that really grabbed me by the short and curlies.
This sort of thing ain't never going to play on the radio, not even on South Dakota Public Radio's Jazz Nightly. But it does put a purple badge over your heart. Give it a listen.
Another piece of jazz that I acquired recently is Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron Live at the Dreher Paris, 1981. If the ghosts of Lacy and Waldron have any power in this world, they owe me some major mojo. I have been pushing their genius, and especially their duets, from the inception of this blog. These were two jazzmen who didn't care what planet they were on. They cared only to dig into the universal heart. You won't find the Dreher album at Hastings or Borders. But if you get it and put it on, you are by God in Paris.
Here is a sumptuous version of my favorite Monk standard. There is no where to hide when you are listening to this.
Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron/Round Midnight/Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron Live at the Dreher Paris, 1981This is a back corner of the kosmos. It doesn't lead anywhere. But you are there and no where else.