The eagerness to please that shines through the superb Live at the Library of Congress isn’t a façade. The record really does strive for entertainment, with nine morsels of robust melody and swing. But you can’t put two musicians with the maturity, accomplishment and long relationship of pianist Roger Kellaway and clarinetist Eddie Daniels on one stage without producing some deeper ideas.
Take, for instance, “America the Beautiful.” Daniels plays the melody with a quiet blend of nostalgia and hope that could move the Taliban to tears. Yet on the turnaround (“sea to shining sea”), Kellaway’s harmony underlines the clarinet with tension and uncertainty. It’s no passing fancy; he replays it on both of Daniels’ playful choruses, and his own bluesy-but-sentimental ones. There’s similar subtlety on “Somewhere,” where the dreamy romanticism of Daniels’ solo gives way to pangs of anguish in the pianist’s. The mood shifts are more discrete on Daniels’ “Capriccio Twilight,” the duo transmitting sly bop, menacing stomp, thoughtful soliloquies, even silly bird calls-never sacrificing the gregariousness of its rhythm.
Still, some of the tunes abhor this kind of ambiguity and just go for fun. “Rhythm-A-Ning” is a jaunt: Daniels approximates a softshoe in his solo. “Just Friends” opens with a gleeful battle at the velocity of a fox chase; Kellaway even responds to the clarinetist’s show-offy flights by shouting, “I can do that too!” (and proving it). It’s timeless music that satisfies cravings for both emotional complexity and plain old joy.