Joel Frahm's Musical Reunion
"I remember laying on my bed about fifteen or sixteen and listening to a cassette from the library on my Walkman and Bird came on playing 'Kim' which is a pretty famous improvisation of his and pretty quick, and it was like lightning struck for me. It was so immediate and so transforming to hear that ' I can't really describe it. It was really the closest thing to a religious experience or revelation that I ever had. Because to hear that sound and put it together with concepts that I was trying to grasp was really totally transforming and revolutionized everything for me."
Frahm and Mehldau became avid record collectors, and would spend what little money they made on gigs on jazz LPs. Their high school days coincided with the rediscovery of acoustic jazz in the mid-1980's, so Frahm's listening habits included both fusion records and classic bop.
"I think about when I first started listening and it really was this strange, eclectic brew of stuff ' I was listening to Return to Forever along side Steps Ahead along side Bird along side Wayne Shorter's classic Blue Note stuff," said Frahm.
After Frahm and Mehldau graduated from high school, opportunities to play together came infrequently. Frahm graduated from The Manhattan School of Music, was accepted into Betty Carter's rigorous Jazz Ahead workshop, and worked with Maynard Ferguson, Larry Goldings, and the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Frahm was also a 1996 Thelonious Monk competition semi-finalist.
Frahm remembered one time they did get together as being particularly special.
"Brad played a gig, actually a really cool gig, maybe 1992 or 93, at [New York City jazz club] Visiones when it was still open, I had a quartet gig down there with him and [bassist] Duane Burno and [drummer] Greg Hutchinson, which was really fun," said Frahm. "It was the first time that he had played with me that I started to hear hints of his new concepts. He had started to play some new substitutions that led him to his concepts with his new trio with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossi."
The two would only gig four or five other times in the next decade until their reunion duo concerts.
After the second of their fundraisers, a newspaper critic suggested that they should record as a duo, and Frahm agreed. "I was in the middle of this record deal with Palmetto and I said, 'Yeah, this seems like a good idea.' It was sort of just a natural progression. It wasn't like I had any grand vision or concept for doing it. I just wanted to pick tunes that we both knew and then let both of us go. Because we always play so well with each other and Brad creates these great soundscapes to improvise in. And he really deconstructs standards in a really cool way."
In December 2001, Frahm and Mehldau headed to Bucks County, Pa., to record his third album for Palmetto at the label's in-house studio, Maggie's Farm, with label owner, engineer, producer, and guitarist Matt Balitsaris.
"It's such a beautiful, bucolic setting. Going out there is always such a blast because you can record there and then go out with the trees for a while. That actually to me has a lot to do with the vibe out there," said Frahm. "When we went out there to record it was really nice, because it was just me and Brad and Matt ' there weren't a lot of distractions. The thing about working out there, I think the real advantage is just that sense of lack of pressure. I don't get that studio feeling that I get sometimes in New York when I go in to do a record. Everyone's a little on edge to get all the takes they want in. Going out there always seems like more of an experience and less of a job."
Frahm added, "Matt always puts me at ease, too. He knows how to guide you gently but he doesn't tell you what to do. ... That kind of producing is cool ' it lets you have direction, but at the same time it's not slamming you over the head with someone's idea. I've been in a lot of sessions with producers ' who I won't mention ' where they'll have dumb ideas, and they'll say, 'Hey, lets try this', and 'Let's try this, baby,' and let's get high in the meantime, but Matt has such a great omniscient sense of what makes an album good, and I really trust him."
Frahm said he was really proud that most of the recording session was unplanned. "We opened up a bottle of wine and went. That was pretty much it," he said.
"There was one thing ' Brad's arrangement of [Lennon and McCartney's] 'Mother Nature's Son' is one that he worked out ahead of time and I previously had heard him play, and that was one I was interested in playing with him." The track is one of three in which Frahm is on soprano, rather than tenor, saxophone.