Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ CD (Impulse!) 4/5

This collaboration was born of a chance encounter in Germany some eleven years ago when, at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim, the festival director invited the two musicians to perform together in a local church. That performance in front of a live audience was duly recorded and the results are now before us. Bass and piano duet albums are few and far between, but there is a clear empathy between Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau here and they both excel on the evergreen material such as the standard, ‘My Old Flame’, with the now familiar Mehldau device of deconstructing the melody and paring it down to its very essence, taking the tempo all the way down in the process. Inherent in the interaction between the two musicians are some lovely blues infusions, with an extended bass solo from Haden there to delight while Mehldau comps in the background. As a whole, what impresses here is the ability of both musicians to reverse roles, one taking the lead while the other slips back into a supportive background. Another highlight is a gorgeous romantic take on that old chestnut, ‘What I’ll Do’, with supportive bass work from Haden while Mehldau takes off onto an altogether different trajectory before returning to the main motif. In fact, a first meeting between the two dates from 1993 and they recorded along with Lee Konitz at the Jazz Bakery in 1996. From that, a studio trio album for Blue Note, ‘Alone Together’ surfaced in 1997. A separate live trio album featuring Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau and Paul Motion came out on ECM in 2011, entitled, ‘Live at Birdland’. This is an album that has been a long time coming, but is finally here and a real treat given that Charlie Haden is sadly no longer with us.

Tim Stenhouse