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Best Jazz of '16: Nearness and Blues and Ballads

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Tuesday December 06, 2016

From PopMatters

The Best Jazz of 2016
By: Will Layman

BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO
BLUES AND BALLADS
(NONESUCH)
Blues and Ballads is from one of the best and most longstanding contemporary trios, that of Brad Mehldau. They cover two Paul McCartney tunes, a Charlie Parker blues, and four old standards, leaving expressive space at the center of every performance. This is subtle brilliance from beginning to end, as Mehldau, Jeff Ballard, and Larry Grenadier play mostly within our expectations but add exceptional imagination every minute or so: a freakish cadenza, a soulful vamp where you don’t expect it, a pair of counter-melodies, a set of cymbal pulses that push you even at a slow tempo. Tradition still works in jazz, and here it is, sounding fresh.

BRAD MEHLDAU AND JOSHUA REDMAN
NEARNESS
(NONESUCH)
Old friends Brad Mehldau (piano) and Joshua Redman (tenor and soprano saxophone) played their duets live on a European tour, and half are standards: “The Nearness of You”, “Ornithology”, “In Walked Bud”. But the playing itself, while more tonal and conventionally beautiful than Davis’s, is also breathtaking in its originality. These masterful mainstream artists leave plenty of space inside these performances for surprise and flashes of invention. Just one example: as Redman plays the sleepily beautiful melody of the title track, Mehldau finds little places to crinkle up the beautiful harmonies and make them ragged and, therefore, more astonishing. That keeps happening, and the result is a subtle surprise every bit as thrilling as it is shining.

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