Recorded and mixed at DADA studios, Brussels by Christine Verschorren in July & September 2019, additional mixing and mastering by Uwe Schwidewski at the ENJA Studio, Munich in January, 2020.
A portrait of Myriam Alter
MYRIAM ALTER piano, compositions – NICOLAS THYS, bass
1.True Love / 2. Missing You / 3. Life is cool / 4. Together / 5. Longing / 6. Nostalgia / 7. Spontaneous / 8. For Louise / 9. Serenity / 10. Blue Sky / 11. Deep Feelings / 12. Forever / 13. Life is light / 14. Hand in hand / 15. Dancing / 16. Smiling
All compositions by Myriam Alter (SABAM) / Published by ENJA RECORDS 2020
« As a jazz critic, the first thing I notice with Myriam Alter’s latest release, cleverly titled It Takes Two, is a friendly reminder: Alter is not a jazz musician. The music on It Takes Two, as with most of the music from her releases over the years (dating back to the early 1990s), bespeaks of more elemental musical qualities and less so about altered chords (not to mention chord changes), intricate arrangements or rhythmic complexity, all qualities that are typically found in most of the music we call jazz.
That being said, she is no rookie when it comes to knowing the chord changes, the standards and touchpoints of this thing called jazz. Just think of her now historic collaborations, on and off the stage and studio, with mentor Mal Waldron, and other jazz colleagues such as Kenny Werner, Joey Baron, Dino Saluzzi, and, more recently Luciano Biondini and Jaques Morelenbaum. A cursory view of this list of artists illuminates the great variety of stylists and instrumentation Alter has drawn on to incarnate her musical ideas.
Alter’s muse, if I can call it that, points to more basic human emotions; like a blues, the 16 originals here, their individual, pared-down titles suggest an almost folkloric essence, evoking scenes of our common humanity that seem to transcend periods in our cultural history. Indeed, the form of these compositions consciously sidesteps the usual theme-solo-theme formats of much jazz down through the years. Instead, in these intimate, revealing duets (dare I call them portraits?) with the marvelously sympathetic fellow Belgian bassist Nicolas Thys, Alter has offered to take the lucky listener on a journey out of time, the pacing of each tune somehow beyond the commonplace pulses of contemporary life. Climaxes don’t exist, and there are no major statements to be made, unless one considers the overall impression of the corpus of these haunting melodies taken as a whole.
Taken as a whole, that's the way this writer would suggest one listen to It Takes Two. Heard in parts, the simple majesty of what Alter is attempting here might be missed. The sonic, emotional and aesthetic impulse that pervades ties each of these elegiac themes together in a kind of tapestry, each piece ending somehow almost as an abrupt statement, waiting for the next note, the next image, the next feeling, leaving one suspended until that next selection.
Certainly, each piece was rehearsed and recorded separately, the material gone over almost religiously, as is Alter’s wont, her manner as a professional. As she says, “Working with Nicolas was just a pleasure. He likes my music and the only thing he wants is to watch my hands.
“We were working without charts. To me,” she continues, “it is so comfortable to play with him. He is not judgmental at all. I think we have the same understanding about music.”
And the studio quality of these recordings maintains the close-in feeling that Alter no doubt was attempting to convey. But it was her mindset and heart that carried the day, whether and regardless of circumstance on a day-to-day basis.
One of the many highlights of hearing It Takes Two is the empathic musical symmetry that can be heard between Alter and Thys. One might get the impression that the two are just getting started and that there is much more to be said beyond this recording, Thys' bass playing perhaps telepathically communicating an intuitive knowledge of Alter’s compositional style and musical meaning.
From Thys’ eloquent opening lines to the album on “True Love,” to Alter’s simple, plaintive melody lines to the more bebop-py, lively yet quizzical solo “Spontaneous” to more mystery with the mesmerizing statements with “Louise,” the pathways of It Takes Two take us through turns and sudden twists that keep us in a seemingly perpetual state of wonder.
It’s a rare recording these days that either doesn’t flaunt personality or high-production values on the one hand, or excessive virtuosity and flamboyant thematic elements on the other. In Myriam Alter’s case, the vibe remains consistently close to the heart, the message a direct one that can touch on one’s sense of longing, of belonging-but-not-belonging, of hope and a faraway dream that has yet to be realized, what it means to be humble and close to the earth and earthly concerns. There is much to this music that goes beyond surface feeling but instead asks the lucky listener to sit and allow the music's magic to wash over and take you on a quiet, meditative journey so foreign to so much of what passes for the real thing, what passes for excitement these days. »