In the musical realm of Duocracy, the new CD by trumpeter Ian Carey and pianist Ben Stolorow, "two" rules. Mainstays on the Bay Area jazz scene, Carey and Stolorow have released highly regarded albums as leaders but found their way to the duo format after several satisfying gigs together last year. They chose to capture their singular improvisational ensemble on record, and Carey's Kabocha label will release the inventive results as Duocracy on February 25.
"It's super-naked and that was intimidating at first, especially once the tape started rolling, but it's also really freeing. On my last album I felt like I was trying to build something perfect," Carey says referring to Roads & Codes, an album selected by many critics as one of 2013's best releases. "This was about going in and enjoying playing with each other, about playing jazz and seeing what we could come up with, and letting these tunes shine."
Carey credits a satellite radio station focusing on recordings from the 1940s with reigniting his love for vintage pop tunes. Struck by the effortless swing that was the era's rhythmic default, he and Stolorow decided to keep the duo loose and limber, unencumbered by involved arrangements.
Ian Carey Ben Stolorow Opening with Walter Donaldson's lilting "Little White Lies," the pair also includes Rodgers and Hart's "You Took Advantage of Me," a piece that showcases Stolorow's gift for melodic invention, and Henry Mancini's "Two for the Road," a standout Latin-tinged ballad performance that highlights Carey's gorgeous tone. They co-wrote the album's sole original, "Comin' Along," an abstract tune built upon the chord changes of Benny Golson's standard "Along Came Betty." Closing with a pair of enduring standards, the Gershwins' jaunty "How Long Has This Been Going On," and Kern's masterpiece "All the Things You Are," the duo departs in a blaze of beauty, refreshing the ubiquitous songs with unfussy eloquence.
"We're drawn to a lot of the same repertoire, lovely mid-century well-crafted pop tunes," Carey says. "What makes working with Ben so satisfying he is very into the idea of breaking out of traditional duo roles. There's a lot left to discover."
Duocracy is the fourth album for Ian Carey, 39, who previously has written for and recorded his audacious, highly cohesive working quintet on Sink/Swim (2005), Contextualizin' (2010), and Roads & Codes (2013). The Binghamton, New York native earned a New School degree in Jazz and Contemporary Music and spent five post-grad years in New York City before relocating to San Francisco, where he has performed with top-notch ensembles like the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, multi-instrumentalist Adam Theis's Realistic Orchestra, accordionist Rob Reich's Circus Bella, and vocalist Betty Fu, which is how he started playing with Stolorow.
Ben Stolorow, 37, was born in New York City but had settled in Los Angeles by the age of 12. In 1994 he moved to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley, studying piano with Bill Bell, Susan Muscarella, and Dick Hindman and before long joining the Jazzschool faculty. His 2008 debut album I'll Be Over Here, is a highly interactive trio session focusing on his lustrous originals with bassist Ravi Abcarian and drummer Greg German. On his 2011 followup with bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Jon Arkin, Almost There, Stolorow deals more explicitly with song forms. The partnership with Carey grew out of their accompanying Betty Fu, and was fed by their camaraderie on and off the bandstand.
When Carey moved to the East Bay, just a few miles north of Stolorow, proximity allowed them to start playing together informally, which led to several gigs at an art space in Berkeley. "It was really successful," says Stolorow. "I had this idea to record to see what happens, and Ian felt, if not now, when?"
The duo will celebrate the release of Duocracy with concerts at the Jazzschool in Berkeley on Friday 2/21 and at St. Hilary's in Tiburon on Friday 3/7.