Hide the Moon and the Stars, the sublime new duo recording from pianist Bryn Roberts and guitarist Lage Lund, isn’t the kind of jazz album that needs to be read about before it can be understood and enjoyed. It didn’t premiere as part of a postmodern opera or multimedia performance; there isn’t an overarching concept gleaned from abstract expressionism or the poetry of Rumi. Rather, with its casually stunning interplay and lyrical original music, it’s “simply a good showcase for these two particular players, these two voices, these two musical personalities who’ve been friends for over a dozen years,” Roberts says.
That relationship began, as so many inspired jazz collaborations have, through a jam session at a New York City joint—in this instance the original location of Freddy’s, a divey, low-key hang in Brooklyn. Both were part of atight knit clique that included outstanding talent like saxophonist Will Vinson and bassist Orlando le Fleming, and Roberts became drawn to the totality of Lund’s musicianship: his brilliantly unique harmonic vocabulary and compositional style; his openness as an improviser; his sheer technical mastery of his instrument. “He’s just one of the best guitarists in the world,” Roberts says firmly.
Lund too was smitten. “What always attracted me to Bryn’s playing was its beauty, patience and elegance,” the guitarist says. The pair discovered that their sensibilities as improvisers and composers were distinctive yet compatible; both musicians can deliver a feeling of newness while also reminding you of certain jazz-history touchstones. What’s more, their easygoing, intuitive rapport as pals quickly carried over to the bandstand. “Playing with Bryn is having a conversation with an old friend,” Lund says. “We don’t need to get acquainted or ask polite questions. We draw from years of history.”
Following two releases of dynamic, kinetic small-group jazz—2005’s Ludlow and 2013’s Fables—Roberts saw his seamless connection with Lund as both a fascinating detour and an engaging next step for his discography. “The duo gives me more freedom to be more spontaneous in terms of arrangements and the selection of music,” he explains. Their debut album, Nightsong, released in the fall of 2016, struck a perfect balance—an equilibrium between two fresh, imaginative voices and the graceful, sometimes mysterious language that descends from Bill Evans and Jim Hall. Not surprisingly, Roberts and Lund count those classic Evans/Hall recordings as profound influences. “Somehow, their collaboration transcended how great they were as players individually,” Roberts says, “and made this incredible kind of dialogue that I loved.” You can easily hear a similar sort of elevation at work in the Roberts/Lund tandem.
Hide the Moon and the Stars deepens Roberts and Lund’s bond as improvisers, while offering a more symmetrical and purposeful set of compositions. “We’re both writing music with our duo in mind,” Roberts says. “So the music has become tailored to this particular thing.” Covering a wide range of temperaments and vibes, from introspective and melancholy to meditative to playful, the album is at once continually surprising and deftly programmed. It’s also sonically marvelous, captured sans headphones in one big great-sounding room, Oktaven Audio, just outside New York City. The studio came highly recommended by one of Roberts’ former teachers, Fred Hersch, who had raved about its Hamburg Steinway grand.
The album kicks off with Lund’s “California,” a gorgeous folk-like tune of deceptive simplicity. “Amaryllis” follows, a pretty waltz that Roberts dedicates to his wife, a botanist; its changes and charming solo work can put you in mind of a cherished old standard. A couple tracks later they dig into an actual standard, “You Go to My Head,” falling into more conventional roles of soloist and accompanist but showing no less harmonic and melodic ingenuity. “Elsa and Anna,” the closer, should be an obvious reference for anyone with young children, like Lund. “I wrote this the day before the session, and after the first take, the engineer asked for the title. I thought, ‘Oh, dear, this is something right out of Frozen,’” Lund says. So he went with that notion, and named it after characters from his daughters’ favorite movie. “At this point, I’ve heard that soundtrack almost as many times as I’ve listened to Coltrane’s Crescent, my favorite record.”
A few tunes aren’t titled with as much love or sentimentality. Roberts’ inquisitive “Cheers for the Call” invokes a cynical musicians’ joke. (Example: “Thanks for doing my gig last-minute, man. You were the fifth guy I tried to get.” “Well, cheers for the call.”) Lund’s bittersweet melody “Brent Rogers” has his “favorite of any title I’ve come up with so far. It was written for and dedicated to Bryn—but as if I couldn’t remember his name, so it’s slightly insulting.” With polytonal moments, harmonic curveballs and Lund’s eerie electronics, Roberts’ “Alternative Facts” pays tribute to the preposterous age we live in. “I’m not trying to make any kind of political statement with this particular title,” Roberts says, chuckling. “It’s just something that was such an insane turn of phrase that I kind of latched onto it. So I wanted to create a piece that was slightly unsettling.” Lund also couldn’t help but respond in part to our—ahem—disconcerting political reality. The guitarist’s quizzical, surreal, tension-filled title composition, whose name was inspired by the opera Salome, “refers to something so terrible happening that you want to hide it from the universe,” he says. “I wrote it right after the last election.” Along the way, a couple of pithy solo-piano interludes bind the compositions into a cohesive work that rewards a focused listen.
This fall, Roberts and Lund will take the duo on tour to support Hide the Moon and the Stars. As stirring as the album is, an intimate club setting is where the insight and telepathy of their union really takes hold. “I can set up a tune, or Lage can set up a tune, and there’s very little planning or communication that has to happen in advance,” Roberts says. “One of us or the other can intuit what direction the other player is going to go in, and can find the best musical solution or the best musical accompaniment. That can be freeing, just getting to know someone’s musical personality. There’s a deep trust that happens here.”