Arthur Gottschalk is one of American music’s great originals, and a rare example of a contemporary composer who has succeeded in writing music that is at once thoroughly modern but also shamelessly enjoyable. Mr Gottschalk’s combination of artfulness and accessibility informs every aspect of his music. It is technically complex and fiendishly challenging for performers but also vivid and direct in its appeal. It is painstakingly crafted but in performance – as it does on this music on Art for Two – sounds captivatingly effortless and spontaneous. His pieces are typically short (only two of these exceed five minutes), and yet Mr Gottschalk packs so much musical incident into even the briefest of timespans that one can hardly call him a miniaturist. And although some of these works have a childlike quality and a certain under-sized, toy-box charm, they conceal, like many children’s stories, complex and very adult depths.
Although entirely of their time several of these works cast loving backward glances towards past masters. On “Benny Zoot and Teddy” a piece for clarinet, tenor saxophone and piano, for instance, Mr Gottschalk raises the curtain on a playful, yet discerning look at swingers Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims and Teddy Wilson. The second “Sonata” doffs the proverbial hat to both Dizzy Gillespie and Eric Dolphy. In both works Mr Gottschalk seems to suggest an active relationship with recently-past music and musicians from afar, offering a whiff of something significant and recognisable that helps aficionados and even first-time listeners find their bearings as they navigate Jazz form swing to the avant-garde with a sense of the familiar as well as by bringing both styles alive in a kind of breathtakingly neo-romantic manner.