With advances in recording technology, the product of jazz is becoming more and more polished. The jazz format continues to get increasingly complex too. Big Two Vol. 2 (and its companion Vol. 1) is an emphatic reminder of how good unvarnished, changes-based improvisation can sound when placed in the hands of the right musicians. Bassist Red Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh have stripped the music down to its barest essentials. There's no chordal instrument to pick up some of the harmonic responsibility. No drummer plays under them to monitor the time. Success or failure rests on the shoulders of the Big Two.
But that's no problem. Mitchell, with his booming woody tone, nails down all the right lines and then adds double stops to outline full chords. His partner Warne Marsh — one of jazz's true originals — unfailingly chooses lengthy phrases that are both entirely idiosyncratic and impeccably logical. Ironically, the unfussy recording quality helps focus attention on the music's architecture. With two such clear, linear voices, the music becomes almost fugal. My preference for Volume 2 is simply a matter of personal choice; I like the tunes chosen. But there's nothing qualitatively to distinguish one volume from the other. Check out the material and pick the album you like better (or download them both, as I did.) I particularly enjoyed “Gone with the Wind” with Marsh lightly slipping and sliding unaccompanied all over the chords, following a more straightforward solo by Mitchell. There's also a deeply felt rendition of “Easy Living” that doesn't for a moment miss the lack of pianist and drummer.