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Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau: Nearness

Doug Collette By

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Brilliant musicians don't always make brilliant music when they collaborate and while that's sometimes been the case with pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman, on the duo concert recordings that make up the appropriately-titled Nearness, they live up to their elevated pedigree. And that's individual as well as shared cachet: Mehldau spent a fair amount of time, some eighteen months to be exact, as a member of Redman's groups in the early Nineties and they formally collaborated on Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2009)

In fact, the two musicians' time together in the same performing unit acts as a catalyst to their well-grounded musical education and their prodigious technical expertise on Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" and the Mehldau original "Old West (one of the three he and his partner contribute to the six here)." The intricacy of their instrumental involvement(s), in particular each man's ability to anticipate the other as they improvise, remains as fluid and authoritative as when they are actually rendering the changes of "The Nearness of Yo u:" in its near seventeen minutes,this tune of Hoagy Carmichael's receives the deepest exploration of (both implied and stated) rhythmic and melodic nuance on the album.

Within these poised yet freewheeling interactions, there is never a sense other musicians are missing as might otherwise appear in a larger ensemble i,e., a rhythm section or perhaps a guitarist. Both Redman and Mehldau have that experience to draw upon, the former in his groove-oriented projects Elastic (Warner Bros., 2002) and Momentum (Nonesuch, 2005) and the latter in his studio and live collaborations with guitarist/composer extraordinaire Pat Metheny, so they're fully acquainted with how to play in larger lineups, but this also preps them for smaller more intimate setting such as the one captured on Nearness.

Such knowledge of the dichotomy also guides the pianist and saxophonist in knowing what to leave out when they play, whether it's embroidering upon the structure of "Always August" or in the call and response they judiciously partake in during these recordings. Weaving around each other and spiraling up, down and around within Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" only makes the denouement of in their resolution together all that much sweeter when it arrives.

All of which speaks to the expertise of the musicianship on display during Nearness, but overlooks a comparable expertise on the production front exhibited by Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau. Working with performances from July and November of 2011, the discerning ears of recordist and mixer Paul Boothe as well as mastering engineer Greg Calbi insure the maintenance of a sonic quality as sharp as the chemistry of the two artists whose names appear in top billing on the CD package, the black and white design of which belies the multi-colored dynamics of the music enclosed.

Track Listing: Ornithology; Always August; In Walked Bud; Melancholy Mode; The Nearness of You; Old West.

Personnel: Joshua Redman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Brad Mehldau: piano.

Title: Nearness | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records


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