Madeline Eastman & Randy Porter: A Quiet Thing

A dozen years have passed since Madeline Eastman partnered with the late Tom Garvin for the sublime voice-and-piano Bare: A Collection of Ballads. Since then, Eastman’s go-to pianist has been the equally skilled Randy Porter. Eastman and Porter have recorded in trio and quartet settings, but the beauty of their creative rapport is best demonstrated on this return to an all-ballads duo format.

Eastman has always cited Carmen McRae as a major-perhaps the major-influence, and it wouldn’t be overstatement to suggest that her interpretive instincts are just as finely honed. Like McRae, Eastman prefers to tackle a song head-on: no coyness, no fussiness, no showy flourishes. With Eastman, as with McRae, the refinements are unfailingly intelligent: the softly repeated reaffirmation of the verse at the end of “Alfie”; the up and down climbs that brilliantly define Alec Wilder’s “All of Us in It”; the parched haltingness that so ideally defines “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”; the wide-open, hymn-like joy of “God Only Knows.”

And Porter’s above-the-title co-credit is utterly justified. He is a full partner in this marvelous, meandering journey, lending similarly keen imaginativeness throughout: undulating choppy waves beneath Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey,” setting an indigo mood for “The Bad and the Beautiful,” and tiptoeing through Kander and Ebb’s gently ebullient title track. Smart. Subtle. Superb.