Nearness is not their first collaboration between saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Brad Mehldau, both having appeared on one another's records over the years and Mehldau having produced Redman's 2013 album Walking Shadows. This is, however, their first album as a duo, these six cuts having been culled from a series of shows the two performed in 2011.
I approached the album with a hint of apprehension despite these being perhaps my two favorite contemporary jazz musicians because I wondered if I would miss the presence of a drummer keeping time or a bass player as rhythmic glue. Would piano and saxophone be enough? The answer in this instance is a resounding yes.
The interplay between is so tight anything more in the mix would be too much, distracting from the chemistry between these two brilliant musicians. The sound is simultaneously sparse and yet full and that is a difficult feat to achieve. I've listened to duo instrumentals where there was too much space and as a result the songs didn't feel like songs because they lacked definition and my ear and mine were drawn to what was missing rather than focusing on what was there.
Both players shine as soloists and as sympathetic accompanists to one another. The sequencing of these collected tracks makes it easy to listen to from beginning to end and at the same time, nothing is lost by skipping around from one to another. The tracklisting features standards like Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" and cuts from jazz luminaries like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker while also featuring originals from both Mehldau and Redman.
Nearness is a remarkable effort by two of the best in the business, making us all wonder why they don't collaborate more frequently, why it took five years to get this album released, and if there might be enough left over for a second helping. Don't fear if that last question is a no as the two are currently touring to promote this album.