Although saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey have been recording together regularly since 2007, it is somewhat surprising that Utter is only their third album as a duo, following 2014's And Other Desert Towns and 2016's Buoyancy, both also released on Relative Pitch. Yes, they have recorded together in trios and larger groupings — notably in Rainey's own trio, completed by guitarist Mary Halvorson — accumulating much valuable experience of each other's playing, but duo playing, particularly in a saxophone-drums duo, requires particular skills that are not necessarily acquired in other contexts. Laubrock and Rainey clearly have those skills in abundance, acquired more through touring and rehearsing together than recording.
Laubrock's sleeve notes to this album give an enlightening insight to that process when she describes their preparation for a 2016 extended duo tour along the West Coast. As a duo they had been improvising until then, but wanted to change the concept and include compositions; not wanting to read music onstage, they rehearsed and memorized the tunes they had composed, "Flutter" and "Shutter" by the two of them, and "Chant II" by Laubrock alone. In performance they weaved in and out of those pieces, triggered by small musical cues that either of them could play at any moment.
Studio-recorded in April 2018, long after that tour, over forty-six minutes Utter documents those three compositions alongside four improvisations. While it would have been good to hear live recordings of the two on tour, the album manages to create a very good imitation by editing together the compositions and improvisations to create a nearly continuous set that gives a sense of those "at-any-moment" shifts. As always, Laubrock and Rainey play well together as a unit, attuned to each other's instincts. In the main, Rainey does not solo but adopts a supportive, accompanying role that fit perfectly with Laubrock's saxes. She is as fine as ever, her playing flowing fluently throughout, whether she is playing melodically with a deep mellifluous tone or adopting any of a range of extended techniques for contrast. Throughout, music pours out of the couple so easily and freely that it is difficult to hear why they saw the need to compose pieces to complement their improvisations. Altogether, this is another first-rate duo recording from Laubrock and Rainey, one that will stand the test of time.
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