Piano duets are relatively rare beasts in the jazz animal kingdom, possibly because a solo piano set can be such a formidable big cat.
Yet the rollicking An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea that the two wunderkinder recorded in the 70s was an example of how electrifying the twin keyboard encounter can be. Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap are husband and wife and both part of the less conspicuous end of Blue Note's pianist roster, producing quality albums without necessarily pushing the envelope, and their collaboration has an unassuming but clear confidence to it.
The onus is on the interpretation of classic (Wayne Shorter's Ana Maria) and not-so-classic material (Lyle Mays' Chorinho) rather than the presentation of original works, of which there is only one, Rosnes' charming The Saros Cycle. Beyond the expected technical competence that the pair brings to the table, they impress for their lightness of touch, restraint and use of space, ensuring that they do not succumb to the temptation to let four hands run riot and thicken the harmonic base of the music to excess. In fact, it is the well-judged, often discreet additions to the bass register, or the passing insertion of a melodic motif by one player in the middle range while the other sparkles in the upper, that account for the highlights of the set, no more so than a tremulous version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Double Rainbow.
That said, the two players actually hold back a touch too much on occasion and some readings are straight in an underwhelming way, even though the well-harnessed bossa nova subtext of much of the work is not unattractive. The end result is curious. There are a couple of very capable soloists here who excel intermittently but the meeting ultimately has the feel of a listen-and-applaud recital rather than a listen-and-engage gig, which is something that I can confirm is well within Rosnes' reach, having seen her live with the all star San Francisco Jazz Collective.