By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
Ten years of jazz “conversations” between Larry McDonough and Richard Terrill have resulted in their first release as an unadorned duo.
The pair was first introduced more than a decade ago by former Free Press writer Joe Tougas, who led McDonough to Terrill when the former asked if there were any good jazz musicians in town. That recommendation eventually led to the formation of a jazz quintet -- which also includes Chaz Draper and Craig Mataresse -- and a long partnership between McDonough and Terrill.
Over the years, McDonough and Terrill found themselves playing more often as a duo. Finding audiences receptive to their brand of sometimes melancholy, often complex jazz, Terrill said the time was right for the pair to record their first material together.
“It was just time,” said Terrill, an English instructor at Minnesota State University.
McDonough added: “We’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time.”
Once regulars of the now-sparse Mankato jazz scene, the pair returns to the Wine Cafe on Friday for the release party for “Solitude.”
“It’s been maybe four or five years since we’ve played in Mankato,” said Terrill, lamenting the closing of the Jazz Club several years ago.
“We’re really looking forward to coming back,” McDonough said.
For McDonough and Terrill, “Solitude” represents the kind of performance comfortability that only comes with time. McDonough likened their relationship to a marriage made functional by the ability to converse with one another musically.
For instance, Cole Porter’s popular “Night and Day” -- like many of the tracks on the album -- is a sort of McDonough/Terrill standard that the two play regularly during performances. The song has been recorded countless times by countless artists, and McDonough and Terrill said they’ve played it themselves in numerous styles.
But on “Solitude,” they choose to open the track with Terrill soloing on his tenor saxophone. Later, as the chorus ends, McDonough quietly slips off the piano, leaving Terrill to close the song in a sort of joyful eruption that punctuates Porter’s sensual lyrical content.
When playing live, McDonough said Terrill typically solos at the beginning. But on the CD, McDonough chose to withhold the chorus until after a long instrumental introduction before closing with Terrill’s warmly textured saxophone.
“I want to allow listeners to form their own perceptions about what the song is about,” McDonough said.
Terrill said: “I don’t even remember how we started playing it.”
“Solitude” is filled with similar surprises.
McDonough recasts many jazz standards with new time signatures and modulations. “God Bless America” is played in 5/4 time and imbued with Middle Eastern harmonies. On the title track -- which is one of three that were compiled using musical fragments created by children with disabilities -- McDonough said he crafted a melody marked in 7/4 time that modulates between Bb minor and its polar opposite, E minor.
“Sometimes, easy listening music is too easy to put on the backburner and forget about,” McDonough said. “And that’s not bad. But, sometimes, I Iike when music demands your attention.”
“Solitude” also pairs McDonough’s songwriting ability with Terrill’s poetry on a handful of tracks.
“Coming Late to Rachmaninoff” is the title of Terrill’s jazz-inspired poetry collection that won the 2004 Minnesota Book Award for poetry. The poem concerns a middle-aged man parked on the side of road, reveling in the beauty of Rachmaninoff’s adagio from his “Second Symphony in E minor.” The song began as a wedding present to Terrill, which McDonough outfitted in 11/4 time.
On “Some Other Time,” Terrill’s ode to the brilliant but tortured jazz pianist Bill Evans is accompanied by a delicate composition that belies the poem’s darker material.
“The music has a lightness that softens the poems,” McDonough said.