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Roy Nathanson: Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations

John Sharpe By

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All the selections on Nearness And You come from saxophonist Roy Nathanson's June 2015 residency at the Stone in NYC, and feature a galaxy of current and past collaborators. Throughout his career, from the Lounge Lizards via the Jazz Passengers to Sotto Voce, Nathanson has brought an irreverent approach to the serious business of music making. Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness Of You" forms a golden thread that holds the program together. But as the reedman explains in the liners, it's a song freighted with irony for him, beloved of his father who played it in the living room, miles away from his mother separately upstairs.

Nathanson's wry humor is as evident in his expression as in the titling, but not at the expense of the music. He alternately waxes playful and tender, sometimes even within the same piece, as in the opening version of the standard with pianist Arturo O'Farrill. Nathanson's quicksilver alto saxophone drifts between free form and song form, but always with an eye on the melody in even his wildest moments. O'Farrill, like all the crew here proves as skilled at improvisational give and take, and crucially at slipping in and out of structure, as the leader.

Nathanson and producer Hugo Dwyer program the 14 tracks together almost as one with barely a pause between them. When the basic materials and premise are the same as here, it generates an almost suite-like feel. In some cases they run extracts from different concerts together to construct a coherent single entity as with the sequence of "The Nearness Of Youse" (with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes' crooning the lyrics accompanied by Nathanson's piano), "The Nearness Of Jews" (with pianist Anthony Coleman), and "What? Shoes?" (with pianist Myra Melford).

Other highlights include the three duets with Marc Ribot on acoustic guitar. Nathanson's baritone harrumphs to detuned guitar rejoinders on "The Low Daze" before settling into a raggedy swing, "An Other's Landscape" revels in catch as catch can interplay, while "A Surprisingly Pastoral Moment" thoroughly lives up to its title. Nathanson creates a chorale by blowing alto and soprano together on a touching rendition of "The Nearness Of Ewes" in the company of Fowlkes' trombone, but preaches with impassioned alto on "Ludmilla's Lament," flanked by the twin 'bones of Fowlkes and author Lucy Hollier.

Nathanson doesn't complete the near titular song until the very last cut "The Nearness Of You Too" where his croaky vulnerable delivery of Ned Washington's words ensures a moving ending to a lovingly conceived portrait of a unique performer.

Track Listing: The Nearness Of You; The Low Daze; Indian Club; What’s Left; The Nearness Of Ewes; The Nearness Of Youse; The Nearness Of Jews; What? Shoes?; Ludmilla’s Lament;

Personnel: Roy Nathanson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, voice; Arturo O’Farrill: piano; Marc Ribot: acoustic guitar; Curtis Fowlkes: trombone, vocals; Anthony Coleman: piano; Myra Melford: piano; Lucy Hollier: trombone.

Title: Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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