Artist: Jim Beard, Jon Herington
Album: Chunks & Chairknobs
Year Of Release: 2019
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
01 – Chunks & Chairknobs (5:08)
02 – Double Blind (4:39)
03 – Baubles, Bangles and Beads (4:22)
04 – Loose Blues (3:53)
05 – Hope and Woe (4:23)
06 – Hand to Hand (6:31)
07 – Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man (5:10)
08 – Gaucho (5:44)
The seeds for Chunks and Chairknobs were planted for guitarist Jon Herington and pianist Jim Beard a few years prior to its recording, while they were on a break from their touring duties with Steely Dan. The two took the opportunity to do something they had never done over the course of their 40 plus-year friendship—work up a duo set and mount a short tour together. The lion’s share of those resulting arrangements— tackling a mix of Beard originals, Herington originals and a few covers—are what you hear on Chunks and Chairknobs.Those familiar with Herington’s instrumental output and Beard’s uncompromising solo catalog know that it represents no mean feat to take on the original selections they have chosen for this album. Indeed, these are among the more compositionally advanced and well-orchestrated pieces to emerge in their time. The notion of that material being simplified might cause one to balk a little.
Thankfully, Beard and Herington have found a thoroughly satisfying way to interpret their own expansive source material and that’s undeniably one of the most engaging aspects of Chunks and Chairknobs. Those same arranging gifts that made their original versions shine also come to bear here, this time allowing them to make reductions that often serve to intensify the musical flavors, not simply uncomplicate them for expediency’s sake.
With the duo format leaving things a bit more sparse on occasion, the newfound uncluttered nature (along with some wonderfully inventive re-voicings) often reveals a lot of compositional gold that may have been previously half-buried in these tunes’ original incarnations. They have also shrewdly chosen to re-fashion arrangements as to accentuate the intimacy and reactivity a duo can furnish. This allows for more delicate moments to develop and bloom, in some cases taking the songs to new places (see the Beard-penned “Hand to Hand”).
The same thoughtful approach to arrangement carries over to the cover material that comprises the other half of Chunks and Chairknobs. While a tune like “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” provides somewhat of a respite from the heavy compositional lifting (so the two can blow a little), the take on Bill Evans’ “Loose Blues” is at different times a wonder of structured arranging or an exposition of improvised dynamic interplay. One album high point is their take on Jerome Kern’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” In addition to containing a couple of nice solo turns from each, Beard’s arrangement is so original and creative that it’s difficult to call a cover.
In sheer sonic terms, Herington’s clean-toned six-string could easily be out-gunned by Beard’s 88, so it really becomes a treat to hear how they listen to, support and create space for each other. And though the proceedings are expectedly marked by eloquence, there are quite a few virtuosic flourishes to relish. Beard’s notable turns in “Hope and Woe” and “Double Blind” are both stunning for what they are and that they seem to fly out of the very fabric of the songs to a seamless return. Herington too shows his occasional stuff in solos throughout but it’s also his deft handling of propellant rhythmic figures and integrated playing that is just as inspiring.
Mainly though, it’s the little touches Herington employs that tend to surface with multiple listens—the playful inflection in his lines on the romping title track, use of slide for a phrase, or selective application of tremolo for just a passage. These subtleties, coupled with Beard’s impeccable articulation, go a long way to enhance things on Chunks and Chairknobs.
With the album closing “Gaucho,” Beard and Herington give a reverential nod to one of the most beautiful compositions in their longtime employer’s canon. Hearing the song performed in this context is interesting as it gives, however inadvertently, a wink to the song’s famously contested roots as a jazz composition. (Even an instrumental cover of a Steely Dan song deserves it’s touch of irony it seems.) Regardless, their loving, near straight treatment is emblematic of the pair’s ethos throughout— to serve the music first—and it’s an apt finale to a finely crafted album.
To those who would listen, Chunks and Chairknobs is indeed a lovely snapshot of two master musicians in the most revealing of settings but, to those who might listen a bit more closely, it also reveals itself as something deeper—an aural portrait of a friendship.