Allison Miller/Carmen Staaf


Drummer Allison Miller and pianist Carmen Staaf have cultivated a commitment to playing together and letting their artistic instincts develop unrestrained.

“Dan Dan,” which opens their new album Nearness, reveals drumming prowess demonstrated with subtle and unflappable rhythmic precision, initially disguised as a chaotic splashing of beats. This contrasts with the easygoing character of subsequent track “Blue Thrush.” Its mellow tempo, delicate bells and ghostly whistle channel a foggy porch on a Sunday morning in rural solitude.

From there, Nearness seems to invert its slowed inertia, reactivating with frenetic energy for the melodic spontaneity of “Top Shelf.” Yet the style and mood spread over the duo’s take on Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and Staaf’s original “MLW” remain quite clear and consistent. The latter track is a nod to Mary Lou Williams, whose life ran a timeline virtually parallel to Monk’s. Switching between the pieces feels like jumping in and out of a seamless dialogue between Williams and Monk, which is the perfect way to summarize Staaf and Miller here: There’s a rich variety of topics being discussed, but listen closely enough and everything together makes sense as one exchange.

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