Chick Corea and Gary Burton suddenly have competition. There's a new piano and vibes duo in jazz, far less famous yet just as sublime.
Dan Cavanagh, a St. Paul boy camped out now in Texas, plays the piano. Dave Hagedorn, local master of the mallets and a St. Olaf prof, handles the vibes. And their new CD, "Horizon," couldn't be much better. It offers the highest level of intimate musical conversation.
A duo recording is quite a switch for Cavanagh, 32, who's made an award-winning name for himself lately in international big-band circles. The associate director of jazz studies at the University of Texas in Arlington, he's known as an ace chart writer, arranger and big-band leader.
"My mom would always tell you -- and now my wife agrees -- that every project I take on seems to be a 180-degree turn, completely different from the one before," Cavanagh said. "I think that's the challenge and fun of it."
He's up to the challenge of making chamber jazz arresting and exciting, no mean feat. So is his former professor, the seasoned Hagedorn. At 55, he's recorded for Artegra Records here in town, Blue Note Records (with the legendary George Russell), Teldec (with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) and Surfdog Records (with rockabilly and swing star Brian Setzer).
Despite big differences in age and geography, Cavanagh and Hagedorn have had a long musical alliance.
"Dan's freshman year was my first year of teaching at St. Olaf, in 1997, and we hit it off right away," Hagedorn explained. "The college was just getting its jazz program going. It didn't have an improv class at that time, so Dan's only way to learn jazz soloing was to take vibes lessons from me. We've been playing together ever since, a couple times a year at the Artists' Quarter. And I've flown down to Texas to do big-band recordings and concerts where he teaches, plus at Baylor.
"I think he's a real fresh voice as a composer. His big-band charts are getting played all over the country. People are hearing Dan's music at festivals, and he's getting commissions to write new stuff all the time. Ours is a very easy playing situation. We don't talk all that much, we've just always connected -- we think the same way."
That musical empathy is apparent on "Horizon," from the first notes of Kenny Wheeler's "For Jan." It's a sonic stunner on which Cavanagh and Hagedorn sound like twins.
The duo also revamps and retools two old Tin Pan Alley classics, "Cry Me a River" and "Stormy Weather." And Cavanagh gets to showcase his own arresting, melodically rich writing.
"The CD has tunes I wrote over a span of four or five years, including things I worked on with a piano trio in Texas," Cavanagh said. "It's great playing duets with Dave -- we're going to try this summer and next fall to take the duo out on the road a bit."
"Horizon" should open more than a few doors. The pair celebrates its release Wednesday at their home base, the AQ.