“The Nearness of You” is a jazz standard written in 1938 by a vaudeville lyricist and a Tin Pan Alley composer. Hoagy Carmichel and Ned Washington wrote the tune for a movie called Romance in the Dark. It has been interpreted so many times but always in a certain genre and in a space where jazz elevates simple tunes. It has attracted Norah Jones, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, who have taken it into a more complex but very mainstream jazz sound.
Along comes Lynn Adib, a singer and composer born and raised in Damascus, Syria, who along with bassist Buronfosse, turns this song into a haunting painting of sounds. It brought to mind the term pentimento, which Lillian Helman explained is a process by which “the painter 'repented,' changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again."
There has never been a rendition of this song which so transforms it, and yet the original is always there directly behind it.
It's not the pale moon that excites me,
That thrills and delights me, oh no.
It's just the nearness of you.
Terms like fusion, which suggests a melding of different genres, often describes the pablum one might hear in supermarkets. So in the spirit of avoiding this term, Adib and Buronfosse have ushered their jazz to another level, injecting it with music from Syria and translating some of the lyrics to Arabic. It is in this place that the duo offers “The Nearness of You.”
Bassit Buronfosse beautifully collaborates with Adib, and their musical communication is evident throughout the album. Buronfosse is from Soissons, France, about an hour and a half outside of Paris, and is now a jazz teacher at the Conservatoire National de Région of Paris. His bass work has a fluidity that almost sounds like a guitar at different points in the album. He adds a lovely depth the Adib’s vocals.
In contrast to “The Nearness of You” is the more traditional but equally interesting cover of “A Case of You,” Joni Mitchell’s song to Graham Nash written after their break up and her decampment to Formentera in Spain, which was the inspiration for her album Blue. Mitchell's lyrics tell a very different story.
Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine.
You taste so bitter and so sweet.
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling.
And I would still be on my feet.
Oh, I would still be on my feet.
Let’s leave aside whether this is an insult or a love song. This is arguably one of Mitchells’s best compositions and certainly one of the most beautiful songs in the American songbook. Adib captures the sentiment and style perfectly.
Adib then covers “I Loves you Porgy” which confirms that she is exploring various types of love, including love that can be taken away. This tune from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess has been covered by Armstrong/Ellington and Miles Davis but this version earns a welcome place in this song’s historic renditions catalog, with fitting lyrics by Ira Gershwin, “I want to stay here with you forever.”
“So Near, So Far” matches a title from a Miles Davis tune, but Adib's original lyrics take us into a traditional Middle Eastern piece. The duo is joined by Rishab Prasanna on bansouri flute, and Mosin Kawa on thre tablas. “Qalb” calls forth an Islamic philosophy of intentional activity, again with lyrics by Adib.
“ADEEB” is a reference to the enlightened Syrian poet, Nazih Abu Afach.
This is how miracles begin,
The arm that makes victory is extended,
The heart is divided in two,
Spirit and language light up.
All this is rendered with beautiful collaborations from Buronfosse, Prasanna and Kawa, along with Haj Youssef on viola d’amore, the Antifoniko Melos Choir, and Ghazi Adib as narrator. The album was recorded at Agios Georgios Kinosargous Church in Athens, Greece and Victor Hugo Studio. The church in Athens gives the recording an additional layer of spiritual depth.
Included in this enchanting mix of American and Middle Eastern songs is Radiohead’s “Present Tense.”
I won't get heavy
Don't get heavy
Keep it light and
Keep it moving
I am doing
As my world
Comes crashing down.
This album boldly stands out in the recent tsunami of music releases and will call you to it again and again.