Day Is Done

Brad Mehldau Trio

Day is Done marks the debut of new trio member Jeff Ballard on drums, joining Mehldau on piano and Larry Grenadier on bass. “After ten very rewarding years with Jorge Rossy, I’m really pleased Jeff has decided to play with me,” Mehldau says. “Jeff is an all around musician, but he’s also a real drummer’s drummer. He’s absorbed a lot of rhythms from different parts of the world that are fresh to my ears. Jeff also has a real refined ear and sensitivity to his approach in the trio setting that comes from years of experience as a sideman. He’s able to bring something completely new to the table on any given tune that we’re playing, yet he finds a way to blend his ideas with my existing musical identity at the same time. Already, Jeff’s been inspiring me in my own approach as I play with him.”

Day is Done begins with Radiohead’s “Knives Out”. Mehldau explains, “This is one that we had never played together and it was a first take in the studio. It had a wild energy about it, yet I felt there was a real focus to the performance between the three of us. It’s always exciting when something clicks spontaneously like that in the studio. I liked the idea of opening the record on a very high energy level like we did with this track. I’ve hesitated to do that in the past, favoring more of a slow build up. What makes it work here, I think, is that the rest of the material is varied enough, and there are also several other really high energy numbers, like ‘Artis’, ‘Day is Done’ or ‘50 Ways’. In comparison to some of my other trio records, this one is pretty high-octane, with a few moments of respite here and there. We gave a lot of thought to the sequencing to try to give the listener a chance to come up for air.”

Mehldau explains that several first takes wound up on the record. “With the exception of the one solo piano track, ‘Martha My Dear’, the music was recorded in one day, over an exhilarating six or seven hour period where we paused only a couple of times for a quick bite and coffee. Day is Done seemed like a good double-entendre for a title. It refers to the title track, but also to the fact that the record was more or less done in a day.” The song “Day is Done” is from Nick Drake’s classic first release, Five Leaves Left, which also includes “River Man”, a tune that has been in Mehldau’s book for a number of years. “I’ve wanted to do something with ‘Day is Done’ for a while,” Mehldau says. “I gave the initial statement of Drake’s haunting melody to Larry, and then he takes the first solo. This is something I’ve done a few times before, like on our arrangement of ‘Smile’ from Anything Goes, or my own ‘Song-Song’ from Art of The Trio, Vol. 3. He has a way of playing melodies with such clarity that it almost borders on deliberate, but there’s always an earthy thing that comes from his beautiful tone and the funky rhythmic quality to what he plays. I’m always latching onto that when I play with him. You can hear that funky earthiness not just on Larry’s solos, but also when he plays in the rhythm section, like on the long tag that ends ‘50 Ways’. There are several modulations of key throughout ‘Day is Done’: from Larry’s solo to my entrance, from the end of my solo to Jeff’s solo feature. The idea of the arrangement was to have it continually building and shifting, but always with an eye on the initial strong melody of Drake’s as a jumping-off point.”

Grenadier’s bass begins “Knives Out” and “50 Ways”. Mehldau says, “I like to start arrangements with just Larry alone sometimes, because he’s really the pivot point for the trio in a lot of ways; it’s sort of the musical equivalent of laying the foundation of a building, in terms of creating an arrangement that has a narrative arc.”

With some songs on Day is Done, the approach is to expand and stretch out the original material of the song, sometimes rhythmically altering it, like the unconventional 7 meter of “50 Ways”, or altering the harmony of the tune, like the final melodic statement and improvisation that ends “She’s Leaving Home”. These extended performances comprise what Mehldau has elsewhere referred to as the “epic” approach to an arrangement, and past examples in Mehldau’s recordings are his trio’s version of “Get Happy”, from the album, Anything Goes, or “All The Things You Are”, from The Art of The Trio, Vol. 4. Mehldau notes that the great John Coltrane Quartets of the 1960s are a guiding influence for this approach: “Coltrane’s performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My Favorite Things’ or ‘Chim Chiminee’ from Mary Poppins are a constant for me. The way Coltrane’s band blows up those songs into something great and dangerous, on this huge scale, that’s a real guiding light for me in terms of what I’m trying to achieve in a band performance. The original tune is referred to, but it’s raised up and becomes transfigured, giving the listener a transcendent experience.”

On other tracks, though, the trio takes the opposite approach, simply stating the theme. Such is the case with Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie”. “This one had been in my book for a while, and when I performed it, I usually played a relatively short solo or no solo at all,” says Mehldau. “Here we decided on a take with no solo, to act as a buffer to some of the other stuff on the record where we really stretch out, but also to keep the focus on the beauty of Bacharach’s song. ‘Alfie’ is so great for me because its mood is placid and whimsical, almost childlike?with its mocking question, ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ that begins the song?but towards the end of the song, there’s a quick dash of pathos that comes out of nowhere and is gone as soon as it arrived, like a miniature heartache. It seemed right to end it right there.”

The other song on Day is Done that only states its theme without improvisation is one of two of Mehldau’s originals, “Turtle Town”. “This is another one that I found was effective without a solo, because the harmony is so dense and specific at the same time. The performance became more about the texture between the three of us, particularly the great timbres that Jeff gets out of his drums and the inner voices of the harmony. I improvise a bit on the extended coda, and then we’re done. A model for me in this type of approach is the classic opening title track of Miles Davis’ Nefertiti, where the band simply reworks the melody continuously, phrasing it differently each time."


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Day Is Done

01. Knives Out
02. Alfie
03. Martha My Dear
04. Day Is Done
05. Artis
06. Turtle Town
07. She's Leaving Home
08. Granada
09. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
10. No Moon At All

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Credits:

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

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Produced by Brad Mehldau
All tracks except track 3 recorded on March 13, 2005
Track three recorded on March 14, 2005
Recorded and Mixed by James Farber at Avatar Studios, New York, NY
Assistant Engineer: Aya Takemura
Mastered by Mark Wilder at Sony Music Studios, New York, NY
Assistant: Maria Triana

Design by Doyle Partners
Cover Photography by Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz