in performance: brockowitz (zach brock and phil markowitz)

Phil Markowitz.

Sometimes a title says it all. In the midst of an absorbing duo concert with Lexington-born, New York-based violinist Zach Brock, pianist Phil Markowitz introduced a piece as a kind of “wacky scherzo.” True to form, the tune’s devilish timing fueled music that grew out of playful instrumental dialogues and brief melodic outbursts (usually by Markowitz) before traveling down the harmonic equivalent of a dark alley.

The tune’s title? “Schizo Scherzo.”

Zach Brock.

Truth to tell, the tune’s mischievous spirit dominated the entire 90 minute concert last night at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacobs Niles Gallery and Center for American Music. Over the course of 10 pieces, Brock and Markowitz, who tour under the joint moniker of Brockowitz, engaged in musical conversations that purposely ran off course. The Markowitz original “Ethers,” for instance, may have had been introduced by a light, sly piano solo from its composer, but the work’s overall modernist design often tensed and relaxed with frequent conversational turns by both players. The intriguing thing was, though, that their exchanges weren’t always reactionary. Brock’s entrance on the tune was quiet yet disarming, but in no time, lyrical phrases were just as apt to be met with a hint of dissonance as they were a harmonic phrase that was more expected or complimentary.

Throughout the program, tempos, temperaments and sometimes the very tones of both instruments shifted without provocation. Then again, there were times Brock and Markowitz embraced tradition. The set began and ended with the Duke Ellington standards “Come Sunday” and “In a Sentimental Mood” that respectfully addressed their mutually gorgeous melody lines while deviating into numerous sideroads of blues joy.

Perhaps the most revealing work of the night was Brock’s treatment of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” It wasn’t because the tune has been commonly associated with John Jacob Niles, who the venue at hand was named for (a coincidence, according to the violinist). Instead, the arrangement underscored the varied temperament of the concert with runs that were alternately atmospheric and sunny that consistently illuminated the tune’s rustic folk heritage. It was living proof, that when it came to determining the mixtures of moods distinguishing these two remarkable players, one man’s soulful was another man’s schizo.

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