Brad Mehldau/Wadada Leo Smith – review
By: John Fordham
Some of his audience began heckling the American piano star Brad Mehldau (“Play some piano! Play a solo!”) during his untypically funky electric set with drummer Mark Guiliana. As the duo Mehliana, the pair were stirring the new brew of improv, 1970s dance-funk, and drum’n‘bass with which they’ve enthused club audiences this year. It enthused most of this London jazz festival audience, too, though clearly not all of Mehldau’s longer-term acoustic-jazz admirers. The barrackers hung on until the encore, only beating a slow retreat when Mehldau responded by turning up the loudest synth-bass thunder he could muster.
The set had begun reflectively with mingled acoustic-piano and Fender Rhodes lyricism, and built over Guiliana’s bass-drum barrages, hailstorm rimshots, and remarkable tonal variety at speed. Oceanic vintage-synth sounds washed over roaring low-end noise, then turned to a Ray Charlesian soul-blues theme. A typical Mehldau piece of sustained Bach-like modulation brought cheers, with Guiliana’s edgy energies behind it, and the encore became a headlong Joe Zawinul-like charge. But it was still pure Mehldau in its care for detail and its song-shapes, just with some loudly infectious histrionics piled on top.