Jazz in small spaces is always provocative: the smaller the band, the greater in intimacy. That is not to say that the solo performance is the most intimate setting for jazz, though. The solo performance is by its very nature dense and narcissistic. While certainly emotional, solitude is not about interaction between musicians, only action and reaction of musician and instrument. This circumstance is very well illustrated in pianist Bill Evans' two solo recordings for Milestone, Solo Sessions, Volume 1 and 2.
The jazz duo, on the other hand, is the very definition of intimate. Piano/saxophone combinations are very appealing, some of the better ones being Art Pepper and George Cables’ Going Home and Tete a Tete ; Frank Morgan and George Cables’ Double Image ; and Jon Gordon and Bill Charlap’s Contrasts. For his third Palmetto release, saxophonist Joel Frahm has teamed up with Brad Mehldau for a frank musical conversation that belongs in the company of the above reed-piano duets.
Brad Mehldau is a pianist with the all of the introverted lyricism of Bill Evans, but many fold more intellectual in approach. He serves Mr. Frahm as a sparing partner very effectively, playing the straight man to Frahm’s sinewy, muscular lines. Don’t Explain collects nine standards and a single original. Monk’s "’Round Midnight" is offered in two takes, the first being "#3," clocking in at 4:39, and presented as if Stan Getz was practicing his scales over the Monk changes and adding bebop giving way to post bop. The second offering, "#1," is a seven-minute tome a bit closer to Monk’s spirit. This pair does really interesting and inventive things with this classic.
That inventiveness spills over into Sonny’s "Oleo," Ornette’s "Turnaround," and the Beatles’ "Mother Nature Son." The sum total of all of these parts is a beautifully rendered conversation between two musicians at the top of their respective games.