by Jeff Becker
Elsa Nilsson is a Swedish-American flutist who approaches music with a spirit of inclusiveness. That approach has included a collaboration since 2014 with pianist Jon Cowherd. Their duet is about the space and exploration that reveals itself when instruments are stripped away and the beauty of the music and the interaction between the musicians is left in an exposed in a pulchritudinous way. Previously the duet released their debut album together entitled, Salt Wind. Their latest endeavor is titled After Us and features original compositions by Nilsson and Cowherd collectively.
“Distant Dawn” begins with a beautiful piano introduction from Cowherd. His touch and symmetry of sound across his voicings is impressive. The tension and release is very interesting within each chordal passage. Nilsson’s phrasing of the melody is lyrical as she produces and warm and centered tone across the range of her flute. The duet is an enjoyable setting to hear these two perform in. The space allows each player to express freely and the listener to enjoy each player on a deeper level. Cowherd’s solo incorporates elements of classical melodic colors with jazz harmony and tensions. His relaxed playing is highly listenable. Nilsson’s accompaniment of Cowherd’s solo is also sonically rich and moving. Nilsson’s soloing is built on phrasing and melodies that are emotional and interact with Cowherd’s harmonic colors in imaginative and emotional ways. Nilsson’s rhythmic phrasing is very percussive in nature at times, which adds another dimension to her playing.
The title track, “After Us” is built around a motif that is passed between Cowherd and Nilsson as they transform the composition into a magical space of sounds and emotions. Cowherd takes the motif into his solo and further develops it through multiple harmonic twists and melodic expansions. Nilsson does the same, as she builds her lines around the central motivic core. The duet is perfectly in sync as Nilsson improvises her solo, the energy grows, but never rushes or loses continuity.
After Us is a collection of stunning pieces, the synergy between Nilsson and Cowherd is breathtaking. You never find yourself wondering what it would sound like with more instrumentation, as the two collaborators mesmerize you with their buoyancy and flowing chemistry. The beauty lies in the finite splendor, the space, the shimmering resilience of the pieces. I cannot recommend this album more highly.