Batique: Two Pianos, One Interesting Heartbeat from Dose Hermanos
A few days ago, I got an email from publicist and old friend Dennis McNally, letting me know that a small package of interest would be arriving shortly.
Really? Cool. What is it?
Bob Bralove and Tom Constanten, on a pair of acoustic pianos at Prairie Sun Studios. They call themselves Dose Hermanos. Improvisational. By the way, the pianos were in different studios. They wired up with headphones and went for it. The CD is called Batique. And (said Dennis, very simply) it’s lovely.
Hook, meet mouth.
I may be a guitar player, but my love for piano is deep and fierce and abiding. I yearn after its grandeur, its subtlety, its passion and power. I get drunk on the deepwater sonar echoes of its bottom end, and giggly from the tiara tinkle of its highest voice. A piano played properly, intuitively, from the pit of the stomach or the hidden places of the heart or groin or living memory, is like no other instrument on earth. It is, quite literally, peerless.
And this was two of them. What’s not to love?
It’s interesting that both these men are associated with the Grateful Dead. I was familiar with Bob Bralove only by name; he came to the Dead’s organisation in the late eighties, a good dozen years after the last time I had anything to do with the band or any of its members. Tom Constanten, on the other hand, had just finished up his tenure with the Dead and moved on when my journalist big sister took me to my first Dead shows in the late sixties.
So I had no associations to overcome, no baggage to shrug off, nothing beyond the fact that this was two players on acoustic pianos. My only worry, a fleeting one, was that they might sound like the Dead in some way. There are rafts of wannabes and copycats out there, slavishly trying to be carbon footprints of their idols, burying their own creativity and their own voices to achieve that. I wish them luck, but I don’t want to hear it.
No worries. Together, Bralove and Constanten have created something that sounds like nothing else I’ve heard. Batique is a work of complete originality. The creativity on display here is simply rampant.
The CD opens with three knockouts in a row, all with a different sense to them; “Appalachian Summer”, as its name makes clear, is a lovely bit of Aaron Copeland-tinged Americana. As an opener, it’s delicate and cheerful, offering you a hand down the first few steps of this particular journey. I love it to pieces.
The two that immediately follow it completely nailed me. “Tokyo Dawn” has a light, slightly remote emotional depth to it. Bralove and Constanten have the cheek to follow it with a borderline frenzy of a thing called “Bollywood Pipe Dream.” All I’ll say is that the piece is very appropriately named. I went back and listened to it three times in a row. With every listen, my grin got bigger. Not taking yourself seriously is a good, good thing. “Ziegfeld Of The Tenderloin” made me just as happy, with gorgeous ripples and touches of ragtime jazz that somehow evoke girls with shingled hair and laddered stockings and pearl necklaces swinging around their knees.
There are a couple of things on Batique that didn’t work for me. That’s only to be expected – any collection of experimental music on which every track pleases is going to leave me with one eyebrow suspiciously up, and people who claim that every track appeals to them leave me rolling my eyes and thinking yeah, right. Don’t get me wrong, everything on Batique is musically excellent. It’s a question of resonance. For music to matter to me, to stay with me, it has to hit me viscerally. “Hear To Their” and “Beep Beep!” don’t. Those two hit me cerebrally, and they bounced off. Good pieces, just not for me. There’s a mention in the press materials of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and I suspect that’s what I’m hearing in the two that didn’t make it past skindeep. I admire Stockhausen’s brilliance, but I’ve never been able to feel him, and I need to feel it to grok it.
But following that, I was hit right in the heart by “Smoke Rings Of My Mind”, one of the most exquisite, yearning pieces of piano I’ve heard in too long a time. The intelligence of continuity is evident in the exuberant “Bacchus And The Nymphs,” taking me out of the longing of “Smoke Rings” and into a sunny glade somewhere. The entirety of both instruments is used here, all eighty-eight keys. There’s an interlude for a startlingly dark little thing called “Behind The Mask” – man, I love it when a piano gets ominous – and then into the rest of the album, a cascade of moods and changes of light.
I had been planning to do my usual two-listens here: the first for the wave to break over the shore, the second in headphones to see what was really up. So far, as I reach the conclusion of this article, I’ve listened to Batique five times, three of them in headphones. There’s a strong bright line between these two players, almost visible in the connections made over wired headphones in two different rooms. That line is tangible, evidenced in the feeling behind the music, and the way it makes me feel.
Batique can be purchased through CD Baby or iTunes.