The duo is my favorite format in improvised music. A solo performance might seem obviously more challenging, yet the presence of another person onstage confers a special obligation. As a performer, you not only expose yourself before an audience but make a fellow musician, your implied twin, vulnerable. You can't, as the old jazz saw goes, "blame it on the rhythm section." And while the interplay among a trio or quartet can quickly blur, most anyone can detect when a two-way musical conversation goes awry. A duo lays everything bare.

While talking on the phone to reedman Ken Vandermark, I asked him about his current duo partner, percussionist Paal (pronounced "Paul") Nilssen-Love. "He definitely pushes me," exclaims Vandermark. When I ask how he manages to stay as timbrally resourceful as Nilssen-Love, who scrapes, pings, and thwacks his drum kit, Vandermark tells me it's one of his favorite things about the duo. "I try and deal with the level of complexity that Paal presents," says Vandermark, "His density of rhythm and density of sound: It's a tremendous and fascinating challenge to push myself in those ways."

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On albums such as Dual Pleasure 2 (Smalltown Supersound) and earlier collaborations in the Vandermark 5, Vandermark and Nilssen-Love invert the hierarchy of soloist and accompanist. Near the end of "Look Left" it's hard to tell who is making the drone. Is it Vandermark on clarinet or Love delicately rubbing a cymbal?

As a duo, the pair's encyclopedic sonic vocabulary enables them to fashion marvelous surprises; submerged sounds can twitter, chirp, and then surface unexpectedly into the blues testifyin' saxophone sound of Albert Ayler or a straight-ahead backbeat. "Our music is open," Vandermark affirms. "We explore."

Vandermark and Nilssen-Love duet on Fri June 13, Seattle Asian Art Museum, 1400 E Prospect St, 547-6763, 8 pm, $15. recommended

Thurs 6/12

ZIGGURAT

Saxophonist Eric Barber and pianist Bill Anschell front a straight-ahead quartet inspired by the stuttering effect of odd-numbered Balkan beat patterns, bouncy polkas, and South Indian classical music. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave, 547-6763, 5:30—7 pm, free with museum admission.

STANLEY JORDAN

This jazz guitarist's eloquent fret-tapping technique wowed 'em back in the '80s and remains a persuasive pleasure. Through Sun June 15. Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, sets at 7:30 and 9:30 pm, $21.50—$23.50.

SEATTLE SYMPHONY

Xian Zhang, the excellent associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and the band accompany Alexander Nevsky by legendary director Sergei Eisenstein. Scored by Prokofiev, the epic Nevsky contains some of the composer's best and worst music. Veering from hackneyed marches and thudding sub—Carmina Burana trash to utterly inspired scoring within just a few measures, Nevsky epitomizes the cohabitation of genius and schlock within Prokofiev. Also Fri June 13 at 7 pm, Sat June 14 at 8 pm, and Sun June 15 at 2 pm. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $17—$105.

AFFINITY

Local chamber groups generally ignore hometown composers, but Affinity is an exception. On the docket: works by Brad Sherman, Sarah Bassingthwaighte, Jay Hamilton, and More Zero's Chris Stover. Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 7:30 pm, $5—$15 sliding scale donation.

PATRICIA BARBER

Like another master of modern sprechstimme, David Sylvian, this Chicago-based chanteuse sings, speaks, whispers, and purrs lonely lyrics for lost souls. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 7:30 pm, $25/$28.

WOLF EYES

Wolf Eyes conjoin the fist-shaking antics of stadium rock to unabashed noise and freeform sonic experimentation. With almost every listen, they sound like a different group, live and on disc. I've heard them drench venerable free-jazz recordings with distortion, disgorge inhuman amounts of feedback, and dub-out tapping on guitar pickups so they echo-echo-echo like Group Ongaku or Sun Ra's electronic music. Wolf Eyes' uncountable number of obscure CD-R releases, one-off dub plates, and short-run cassettes have helped recast the physical, nondownloadable release as art object. Oh and live, they put on a great show. The Rita, Blue Sabbath Black Cheer, and the scabrous electronics of Rubber O Cement round out the bill. High Dive, 513 N 36th St, 632-0212, 9 pm, $8.

Sat 6/14

SEATTLE REPERTORY JAZZ ORCHESTRA

In jazz, the request is a sliver-sized performance by the listener. Call out a smart tune (e.g., "Impressions" by John Coltrane) and the band will love you. But suggest a stupid cliché—I actually heard a drunk bellow for "Melancholy Baby" 15 years ago—or something obscure (who knows "Oboe Mambo" anymore?), inappropriate ("Louie Louie"), or obstreperously difficult ("Things to Come" or Coltrane's "Giant Steps"), and you'll get heckled. Here, the SRJO fulfills listener requests tallied from KPLU, including "Sing, Sing, Sing," Duke Ellington's Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, and the one tune few know was written by Tito Puente, "Oye Como Va." Also Sun June 15 at the Kirkland Performance Center at 3 pm. Recital Hall at Benaroya, Third Ave and Union St, 523-6159, 7:30 pm, $15—$36.

Sun 6/15

SOUNDS OUTSIDE BENEFIT

Stephen Fandrich and Sean Owen team up to help Sounds Outside, which organizes free summer concerts at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill. Fandrich plays piano pieces by Chopin, Scriabin, and Frank Zappa; Owen presents vihuela music of the Spanish Renaissance and assorted études for guitar by stalwart Monktail percussionist Mark Ostrowski. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave at Seneca St, 800-838-3006, 2 pm, $20/$25.

Support The Stranger

Wed 6/18

HERBIE HANCOCK

Like his mentor Miles Davis, Hancock fluidly spans multiple styles, from the jazz-funk of the classic album Head Hunters (and the underrated Sextant) to straight-ahead stuff like Speak Like a Child, the 1978 Japan-only LP The Piano, and his work with V.S.O.P. Hancock cut some passable disco tracks ("You Bet Your Love" from the embarrassingly titled Feets, Don't Fail Me Now) too. His latest disc, River: The Joni Letters (Verve) honors Joni Mitchell. Hancock has an all-star band in tow: drum deity Vinnie Colaiuta, the amazing saxophonist Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke on guitar, and a fellow Miles alum, bassist Dave Holland. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $20—$95.