It starts with a few irreverent tickles. Just three minutes into Bird’s “Au Privave,” Brad Mehldau gives his muse the green light, messes around with a spray of notes, and we’re off into a chatty conversation where blithe trills are grounded by buoyant thumps – meaning informality has just as much bearing on this entertaining exchange as decorum does. Perhaps that’s somewhat predictable. Impulse!’s previous Haden duet discs (with Jim Hall and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, respectively) make hay with a parallel dynamic. One of the bassist’s strengths was splitting the diff between the formidable and the folksy, and as these six performances from a 2007 German show illustrate, Mehldau has little problem turning to his colloquial side when the mood strikes.
The cozy context gives the pianist’s whimsy more wiggle room than usual. Though the book is ballad-heavy and the tempos measured, both participants skip through a handful of passages with a mischievous air. Mehldau’s right hand dodges opaque excursions and lets lighthearted flurries carry the day on “What’ll I Do.” Because the musicians decide on a bouncy gait for “Long Ago and Far Away,” it too is a romp that trusts mercurial solos to control its temperament.
Both artists love a moody digression, however, and “My Love and I” turns bluesy and brooding while still dropping a string of surprises. The pianist’s urbane essence is no longer on the back burner, and the duo’s pulsing interplay renders yet another bit of sage advice: caprice is an ally, dismiss it at your peril.