Brad Mehldau Trio Live

Brad Mehldau Trio

Live is the second release from The Brad Mehldau Trio with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. The first album from this trio, Day is Done, was recorded in the studio and released in 2005. In the trio setting, Mehldau has habitually rotated between the studio setting and the live setting. Each has its own variables. “Even though we had only been playing for a very short while with Jeff when we recorded Day is Done there was a feeling of ripeness already, and there’s a sense of urgency about that recording”, Mehldau explains. “We were grabbing onto ideas very quickly from one another, and it’s an intense, lucid affair.”

Live finds the trio a few years along in its development, and the interchange between the three members unfolds with a different kind of ease. Says Mehldau: “One characteristic that runs through a lot of the music on Live is that of taking time to let ideas develop to their fruition; for me it’s a discernable development in our sound that’s taken place over the last few years. It may be due to the live setting – there are no strictures on time; there’s just a 75 minute block of time and space to fill, however we see fit – but I think what’s mostly been happening is some very intense listening to each other on the bandstand: a heavy, close kind of listening that results in all of us being able to identify an key idea in the music that rises up and demands attention, and then a mutual commitment to wait and see where that idea takes us. In that process, within a performance, there is an awareness between the three of us that there is no need to hurry to the finish line. For me as a leader, that has meant not forcing a particular direction at any given moment. The best performances for me – the ones that wound up on this record, are the ones where I am the least strident about what I’m expressing: in this way Larry and Jeff shine the most.”

Live is the fourth Mehldau trio release recorded at the Village Vanguard club in New York City, and the songs were culled from performances that took place there October 11-15, 2006. It is a double CD. Mehldau says, “At the club, we play two or three sets a night, and the idea of the record was to present two sets of music in roughly the same order as we performed them.” The record begins with “Wonderwall” from the band Oasis. “This is one of those tunes that really grabbed me when it was being played a lot on the radio – the vibe, the way the band played together, the way the chorus was sung – but it took me a minute to come up with a way for us to play it. Finally I came up with this bass line that Larry just nails, and Jeff found this dry, scrtatchy groove to go along with it. The idea was to take out a note from the end of Larry’s bassline pattern, so that it is too short for the normal meter. In that way, he overlaps with Jeff and I in a different place every time he repeats that figure he plays. One predecessor for that approach is – in a very different way, of course – Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, where John Bonham grooves in a traditional 4/4 meter, while Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones overlap him in ¾.”

Live features 5 original compositions of Mehldau’s. 4 of them are released here for the first time; the exception is “Secret Beach”, which appeared on the “Quartet” record with Pat Metheny in 2007. “Fit Cat” was written with Ballard in mind. Mehldau: “It’s difficult to get away from the approach where one person solos and then another person follows with another solo. Here, Jeff and I take a different tactic, passing the soloistic role back and forth between us throughout the improvised section of the tune. It creates a different kind of narrative, like a story being told that is shared between two speakers. Another Mehldau original is “Ruby’s Rub”. “It’s one of several tunes of mine where Monk is a heavy influence compositionally, the way the motif is presented and then gets displayed rhythmically, the sharp angles of the melody on the bridge, the harmony of the coda section, for example,” comments Mehldau. The ‘coda’ at the end is also a vehicle for a Ballard solo.

Another track on Live that features Jeff Ballard at the end in a “coda” section is “Black Hole Sun”, an arrangement of the song from the band Soundgarden. Brad says: “I try to give Jeff and Larry some different ways to solo and there’s hopefully a nice variety on this record. Sometimes it seems right to just let Jeff take it by himself for a while, like you hear on Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A.” here; other times, Larry and I play something behind him, giving him something to play off and interact with. It’s also an opportunity to add another “chapter” to the performance – to stretch the narrative structure of the whole tune a bit more. “Black Hole Sun” is maybe the most ambitious in that sense – it has several sections to it – and that impetus came from the original version, where the verse and chorus are in a ballad tempo, but the guitar solo strikes off in a new direction in an odd meter.”

Another dynamic that takes place a bit in “Black Hole Sun” and to a greater extent in John Coltrane’s “Countdown” is some group playing free of meter. “Although I’ve recorded “Countdown” already, something new started happening, sort of by itself with no planing, when we started playing with Jeff – near the end of the solos, the meter dissolves, and we start playing together referring to the harmony, but in a very stretched out, abstracted way, completely free of any meter. This is something relatively new for me that’s come about since Jeff has played with us, and I’m very excited about it – it’s a new way of expression for us.”


Brad Mehldau Trio Live

Disc 1:
1. Introduction
2. Wonderwall
3. Ruby's Rub
4. O Que Sera
5. B-Flat Waltz
6. Black Hole Sun
7. The Very Thought of You

Disc 2:
1. Buddha Realm
2. Fit Cat
3. Secret Beach
4. C.T.A.
5. More Than You Know
6. Countdown


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Brad Mehldau, piano
Larry Grenadier, bass
Jeff Ballard, drums

Produced by Brad Mehldau
This music was recorded live at The Village Vanguard in New York City over three sets on Friday, October 13, 2006.
Recorded by James Farber, Tim Martyn, and Rick Jacobsohn
Mixed by James Farber at Sear Sound, NYC
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, NYC

Design by John Gall 
Photography by Michael Wilson