Sunday, August 08, 2010

Pianos: The Four Hands of Yves Leveille and Eri Yamamoto

It is a small world, but evidently Arthur’s Tavern is at the center of it. Japanese pianist-composer Eri Yamamoto has a regular Thursday-Friday-Saturday night feature spot there, where the Quebecois Yves Léveillé once subbed for her during one of her many tours. When Léveillé invited Yamamoto back up to Montreal to play with his working group, the two pianists found they clicked together, even in unorthodox combos, including a two-piano trio with multi-reed virtuoso Paul McCandless. Yet their first recording together is an intimate piano duet, simply titled Pianos, now available from finer Canadian music retailers.

Although two piano sessions are not unprecedented, they offer a distinct challenge to both players. However, Léveillé and Yamamoto prove to be quite stylistically compatible and amenable to the give-and-take of four-handed playing. Rather than showy one-upmanship, they segue into each other quite pleasingly, as with the cascading runs of Léveillé’s darkly lyrical “Pour Ainsi Dire” that opens the set.

Inspired by nature, Yamamoto’s “Redwoods,” has a transcendent elegance that perfectly suits the cooperative spirit of the project. As it is technically Léveillé’s session, he supplies the majority (five out of eight) of the compositions. Yet, the intriguing melody and evolving dynamics of his “Zone Indigéne,” the longest track on Pianos, are not unlike those of Yamamoto’s compositions.

The two shortest selections of the session are solo improvisations from each pianist. Yamamoto’s swinging “Montreal Dance” delivers the most muscular bluesy playing to be heard on Pianos, whereas Léveillé’s “Recontre” might be its most delicate, deepest dip into the Bill Evans bag.

While there is indeed a moody pensive quality to much of the music they create, there is still a strong rhythmic component, driving it all along quite effectively, as Léveillé’s “Pantomime” nicely illustrates. It dramatically concludes with the striking beauty of Yamamoto’s composition “Color,” which was first recorded on her album of nearly the same name, Colors.

There is quite an eloquent conversation going on in Pianos, filled with warm and witty phrases. I’ve come to know Eri Yamamoto, writing profiles of her and her richly rewarding music and hearing her live at Arthur’s. While I have not met Léveillé yet, I suppose that’s why you have to keep coming to that West Village landmark—you never know who might turn up. While Pianos might take some searching for here in the lower forty-eight, it is definitely worth importing. It is a great example of the creative rapport between two passionate yet disciplined artists.