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Phil Skaller and Danny Holt Duo: Music of Mark Dresser (PFMCD062)

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Phil Skaller and Danny Holt Duo: Music of Mark Dresser

1 Flac (5:12)
2 Flocus (13:09)
3 Para Waltz (10:48)
4 Digestivo (9:37)
5 Aperitivo (12:33)

Philip Skaller and Danny Holt: pianos, celeste, toy piano, melodica, percussion
All compositions by Mark Dresser (Del Dresser Music/ASCAP)
Arrangements by Philip Skaller and Danny Holt
Recorded October and November 2008 and June 2009 at Roy O. Disney Music Hall, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
Piano Technician: Alan Eder
Engineered by Steve Rusch
Edited and Mixed by Edmund P. Monsef at The Hacienda, Los Angeles, CA
Mastered by Jeff Kaiser
Artwork by Iva Gueorguieva
Graphic Design by Ted Killian
Executive Producer: Danny Holt
This recording was made possible in part by a Subito grant from the Los Angeles chapter of the American Composers Forum.
© 2010 Philip Skaller and Danny Holt

I was quite surprised when Phil Skaller approached me about recording a whole CD of my compositions in duo with Danny Holt. Though I had composed this music between 1994 and 2008 for my own groups, and arranged it for various formations, I had never imagined it for two pianos.

I’ve known Phil since 2002 when he was my teaching assistant at Hampshire College in an improvisation class. I introduced some of my tunes to the students and Phil, especially, devoured the music and its improvisational concepts. I had been hearing the praises of Danny Holt for years from Phil, but it was not until 2008 that I first heard this duo perform a suite of my compositions at UC San Diego. I was quite impressed and flattered by the wit, musical virtuosity, and pure improvisational fantasy that these two gifted young musicians brought to my music.

The compositions represented on this CD were conceived as abstractions and deconstructions of known jazz forms and related idiomatic music. What Phil Skaller and Danny Holt have done is to deconstruct my deconstructions. They have taken my music in directions that I doubt that I would have ever conceived and in some ways, made the music more flexible and malleable.

The first track, Flac, recorded on “Aquifer” (Cryptogramophone), was originally designed as a rhythmically gear-shifting Klezmer-like tune that improvisationally develops from the material itself and returns to the theme. Phil and Danny’s version has a rhythmic and sound character reminiscent of both Conlon Nancarrow’s studies for player piano and John Cage’s works for prepared piano. The alternation of fragments of the tune and its improvisational implications comes in waves, yet a thread of the thematic materials is always present.
Flocus was composed for trumpet, voice, bass, piano and drums and recorded on “Force Green” (Soul Note). It was conceived as four independent lines, each in a different meter, which are layered one upon another and developed in collective improvisation. Phil and Danny’s version takes a different direction, introducing a more classical theme and variation approach, while each of the lines independently develops outside of the tempo grid. This interpretation, though referring to themes, transcends the materials and becomes a springboard for episodes of virtuoso invention and dramatic return.

Para Waltz was composed as a vehicle to melodically and harmonically improvise on a metric modulating jazz waltz. Danny and Phil’s interpretation takes a very different direction, initially eschewing the tempo aspect and focusing on a more spacious approach, layering the timbres of glockenspiel, piano, and piano harmonics. The temporal aspect isn’t highlighted until midway, with the introduction of cymbals demarcating the time. The thematic material is finally introduced whole and floats on out.

Similarly Digestivo, recorded on “Aquifer” and “The Marks Brothers” (W.E.R.F), was conceived to create a metric modulating twelve-bar blues in B-flat. My idea was to abstract the idea of ‘substitute changes’ traditionally applied to jazz harmony and apply it to the domain of tempo. Unlike the original, which has a single underlying tempo throughout, Danny and Phil’s version is freer, starting out of time. They eventually introduce the tune and the different tempos, but in the end, leave the form completely, in an expansive and satisfying way.

Aperitivo, composed for piano, bass, and voice, is an even more abstract version of the blues than Digestivo. Recorded on “Time Changes” (Cryptogramophone), this slower metric modulating twenty-four bar form in C minor doesn’t even articulate the ground pulse, creating a feel that is inherently looser and less polyrhythmic than Digestivo. Phil Skaller and Danny Holt’s version is an extremely inventive and expansive finale to the CD, utilizing pianos, toy piano, melodica, and percussion. Improvisationally, they’ve chosen an even more abstract approach, which alternates the gestalt of tempo changes of the head and a freer approach that abstracts motifs, melody, and an almost fugue-like beginning. At about minute nine the tune grinds into a vamp, modulates faster, and phases, juxtaposing shreds of the melody back into the vamp, and returning to the twenty-four bar head.

Hearing Phil Skaller and Danny Holt’s interpretations of my music is both affirming and inspiring. I am impressed with the combination of their virtuoso playing, interpretative skills, and pure musical imagination. I look forward to hearing what they do next.

Mark Dresser
September 2010

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Reviews

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    “…like John Cage on some mind-altering substance.”
    –Stuart Kremsky, Cadence Magazine

    “If you haven’t gotten your daily (or weekly, or monthly or yearly) dose of different, this duo serves it up quite nicely…Unless you’re so hung up on form and tradition that you (just) can’t tolerate music that takes you down new paths and new modes of thinking/hearing, you will love this…one of the best improvised albums I’ve heard (yet) this year.”
    –rotcodzzaj.com

    “…an impressionistic panorama of Dresser’s work. With nimble phrasings, asymmetrical pulses and faint melody lines, the duo exercises a highly rhythmic and surrealist portraiture via swirling dialogues, temperate interludes, and climactic crescendos…Effectively, they shun convention and pose an array of persuasive ideologies…”
    –Glen Astarita, allaboutjazz.com

    “The Skaller/Holt Duo (Philip and Danny, respectively) is decidedly different…It is music of energy, ultra-expressiveness and a little slapdash helter-skelter thrown in besides….quite invigorating and really interesting.”
    –gapplegate music review

    “…sometimes stark, sometimes herky-jerky, sometimes dreamy, and almost always rather…peculiar. We love piano music…but we’ve never heard piano music exactly like this before (?).”
    –babysue.com

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