The pairing of the same or two closely related instruments, when done well, can make the claim of being something like the anti-homeopathy of music. Rather than using like to negate like, as is claimed by homeopathic medicine, the successful duet uses like to enhance like. Each amplifies the effect of each while helping focus the ear on subtle gradations of timbre and, by extension, expressive force.
Ogni Suono, the Cleveland, Ohio saxophone duet of Noa Even and Phil Pierick, opened the 2018 Sonic Circuits DC Festival this past September. Their set was a remarkable, precisely played précis of their album Saxo Voce, a collection of new work they commissioned from several contemporary composers. As its title suggests, Saxo Voce is an album of music for saxophones and voices matched and sorted in a variety of ways. On a piece like Christopher Dietz’s My Manifesto and Me (2016), which alternates recitative and instrumental passages, voice and saxophone occupy distinct spheres that dramatize each other by way of contrast. On Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s Chroma (2017) for two soprano saxophones and voice, the instrumental parts—long lines moving past each other in slow glissandi—lie over a substrate of wordless voices hardly distinguishable from the sounds of the instruments. The serene pace of the work belies its on-edge dissonances, afforded by overtones, multiphonics and microtonal collisions. Ogni Suono’s facility with extended techniques is further demonstrated in Vocalise II (2016) by Felipe Lara, which rushes in with the hissing of air notes and is sustained on the drone of a tenor saxophone accompanied by a parallel, hummed line.
In contrast to the composed and meticulously rehearsed pieces on Saxo Voce, Explicit, a recording made in Piacenza, Italy in October 2014, is a foray into free improvisation by American multi-woodwind artist Vinny Golia and Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo. Even so, the sympathy and judiciousness of the interplay make it sound as if it were composed. Golia and Mimmo’s close musical synchronicity is apparent from the very first notes of the opening track and develops further from there. The intricate yet spontaneous coordination of phrasing and dynamics is uncanny, as is Golia and Mimmo’s ability to layer harmonies and even set up cadences on the fly. The longer improvisations are notable for having differentiated but linked sections defined by characteristic tempos, dynamics, thematic material and density of texture: the sound of two voices alone but lacking for nothing.