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 Wednesday, 23 April 2014
A Pair for All Seasons: Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt Print E-mail
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Thursday, 12 November 2009

“Seasons Ago: The Songs of Alec Wilder” (2009, Heart Music)

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Seasons Ago

The pairing of saxophone and piano in duet is not unusual although the harmonic possibilities can be unusually beautiful (e.g., Hank Jones and Joe Lovano; Bobby Watson and the late James Williams). A few years ago I heard the late altoist Frank Morgan perform a series of duets, most notably with Joanne Brackeen and George Cables; sadly neither gig was taped. Perhaps less common is pairing piano with the soprano saxophone exclusively, a partnership that brings the compositions of Alec Wilder to elegant attention via Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt’s recent Seasons Ago, released on Austin-based Heart Music. 

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Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt © Pin Lim
Much like Alec Wilder, these musicians, colleagues at Houston Community College, have not received their due given their talents and credentials. Their duet collaborations date back about ten years, while LoCascio’s fascination with Alec Wilder began nearly 30 years ago. Seasons Ago is one of few jazz collections of Alec Wilder. And perhaps the most notable, from Marian McPartland, contains only one tune in common with the LoCascio/Witt release (“Where Are the Good Companions?”), reflecting the depth of the composer’s work as well as the limited exposure given to these marvelous tunes.

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Woody Witt © Andrea Canter
There are ten tracks and ten moments of exquisite melody and harmony. Throughout, LoCascio’s touch defines “elegant,” and even in dark passages his voicings manage an airy suggestion of hope. The soprano sax generally creates a wistful sobriety, and Witt’s tone and time take full advantage of the horn’s character, a songful, conversational partner.  Most familiar in this set are “Blackberry Winter” (which McPartland has played often but not on her Wilder tribute!) and “Moon and Sand.” The former is delicately introduced by LoCascio, the pianist coloring heart and memory with some unusual (and beautiful) chord choices.  Witt adds his voice with such sweet conviction that one can not imagine another instrument singing this melody... until, of course, LoCascio returns in solo. Alec Wilder had the ability to make beauty and melancholy loving companions, a pairing LoCascio and Witt honor throughout the recording but particularly on “Moon and Sand.” Nearly double the length of the other tracks, here the duo stretches out, reaching into the depths of their instruments to find only perfect notes in perfect alignment, like a total eclipse. 

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Joe LoCascio
One of the brighter tracks, “The April Age” features Joe and Woody in a midtempo counterpoint, highlighted by a swinging, somewhat abstract dalliance from LoCascio and an in-kind, joyful retort from Witt. An even sunnier adventure is “Mimosa and Me,” referring perhaps to the bright colors or the after-effects of the brunch cocktail. Witt’s soprano grins from ear to ear, while LoCascio’s keys, a bit tipsy, skip through the changes with glee. “That’s My Girl” also has an upbeat lilt, Witt dancing, sliding, skipping around the melody, yielding to LoCascio’s bouncing, twisting lines, before the partners unite for a final gentle romp.  

That both McPartland and LoCascio chose to record “Where Are the Good Companions?” is easily understood on first listening here, the duo taking the emptiness of isolation and weaving pathos into a silken shroud. The most complex harmonies appear on the closing track, “Remember My Child,” each musician telling his own story, their plots loosely connected, but their moods and colors wholly compatible, and in an odd way, seeming to recapitulate all that came before, as an epilogue to Wilder’s songbook. 

Seasons Ago is available at CD Baby and Amazon.

 



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