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Saxophonist Joel Frahm's third outing on Palmetto is a showcase for duets with pianist Brad Mehldau. Frahm impressed with his 1999 debut Sorry No Decaf as a neo bopper and I missed his 2000 venture on The Navigator. The studio can get pretty lonely with only two artists performing and we're happy to report that this is a relaxed and stimulating session for these two old friends from West Hartford, Connecticut.
Frahm has chosen standards and jazz standards with a minimal number of original compositions so that the listener can easily gauge his performance with the many artists who have recorded tunes like "Don't Explain", "Smile" and "Get Happy". I don't hear any of the swagger of his tenor sax debut recording but that isn't what is called for here. His musical persona on the ballads is akin to Lee Konitz, although on tenor sax, both introspective and inherently swinging. Likewise Frahm's use of soprano sax on the Lennon-McCartney "Mother Nature's Son", "East of the Sun" and "Smile" displays probing lines rather than bold declarative sentences.
Brad Mehldau, one of the hottest piano figures of the past decade, acts here as a good foil and provides the piano feeds that are needed. Although he isn't given much solo space, Mehldau is playing a melodic backbone for Frahm's statements. Mehldau also occasionally uses a stride-like left hand on some up-tempo work. Since this is Frahm's date, we do not get the usual Mehldau liner notes which explain the Existential meaning of liner notes. Instead the two musicians individually reflect back to their high school years and what it meant to them. So this is a good multi-purpose album to start the New Year off with for wining, dining or romancing.
Track Listing: Don't Explain, Get Happy, Oleo, Round Midnight #3, Mother Nature's Son, East of the Sun, Turnaround, Away From Home, Smile, Round Midnight #1.
Personnel: Joel Frahm,tenor and soprano sax; Brad Mehldau, piano
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.