"Blues and Ballads" Continues to Receive Rave Notices


Brad Mehldau Trio's album "Blues and Ballads" continues to receive rave notices around the world. Following are two of the latest reviews from All About Jazz and Tone Audio:
 

Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues And Ballads

By DAN MCCLENAGHAN
Published: June 19, 2016

Call Brad Mehldau's Blues and Ballads the pianist's "Every Man Set." 

There has been, from the beginning of Mehldau's career, a sense of the cerebral in his approach, with its classical music influences and his deep technical virtuosity. Throw the sometimes dense and erudite writing for selected liner notes (mostly earlier in his career) into that mix, and "Too deep for me" might be a reaction of the perennial everyman. 

Except for the beauty. 

Mehldau, along with is often lofty intentions and classical influences, has always kept a firm grip on the more common man side of sounds: Paul McCartney's "Junk" on the masterpiece four disc 10 Year Solo (Nonesuch Records, 2015). Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" from the same set. Burt Bacharach's "Alfie' from Day Is Done, (Nonesuch Records, 2005), (as fine a piano trio recording as you'll find); Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" from that same set. Elvis Costello's "Baby Plays Around," from Where Do You Start (Nonesuch Records, 2012). These wonderful plebeian pieces considered beside—from the Mehldau oeuvre—Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians," a segment of Philip Glass' "String Quartet No. 5," or Brahms' "Intermezzo in E Minor, Op.119: No.2. 

The trio opens Blues and Ballads with the memorable "Since I Fell For You," a 1945 tune penned by Buddy Johnson for his Buddy Johnson Orchestra, with his sister, Ella Johnson as vocalist. The tune attained huge popularity in 1963, when Lenny Welch's version hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The trio have slowed it down, so every nuance of mood and emotion in the tune can be savored. Drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier slip into a perfect accompanying mode, as opposed to the now more common style of equality of instrumental input that was pushed to the forefront by the Bill Evans Trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, in the late-fifties. But the rock solid accompanist style for the piano trio proves a refreshing approach, and well-suited to the music at hand. 

Elsewhere the trio explores the splendid simplicity of The Beatles "And I Love Her," the melodic genius of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You," the pretty poignancy of Jon Brion's "Little Person," the joyous buoyancy of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," and finally closing out with a dour, melancholy—but lovely in its way—version of Paul McCartney's "My Valentine." All of this played out with a pared down style, getting to the essence of the compositions. 

Every recording by this top notch piano trio is a cause for celebration. This one is not an exception.

Track Listing: Since I Fell for You; I Concentrate on You; Little Person; Cheryl; These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); And I Love Her; My Valentine.

Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Brad Mehldau Trio - Blues and Ballads
by Kevin Whitehead

Brad Mehldau’s new trio album might have been called A Blues and Ballads—Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” is the only blues of the seven tunes—or perhaps Blues in Ballads, since the pianist works bluesy figurations into “These Foolish Things” and Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine.”

Creative mix-and-match remains Mehldau’s modus. He minds tiny details that make all the difference—a barely grazed grace note, a sublime clinker buried in a chord, two lone notes harmonized (in very different ways) in a long lean run—as well as big, candelabra gestures. He’ll blurt out a smushed-up graceless cluster into an elegant line and make it right. His precise touch lets him foreground and background select notes in a complex run, and he has a keen sense of texture: Knows the value of open space, and of letting notes ring. He also improvises with intense focus. On “Cheryl,” he keeps relating his solo line back to the melody, one way or another: Covert paraphrase, a similar melodic contour, some tattered remnant of the original. He plays that melody in octaves, with two hands, you might assume—until he starts tossing off held chords on the side. 

He’s also good at nosing out jazz potential in contemporary pop. “Little Person” is a bittersweet Jon Brion movie ballad (from Synecdoche, New York) with the composer’s characteristically graceful jazz-adjacent harmony, a catchy hook, and bassist Larry Grenadier tolling like stately Percy Heath with the Modern Jazz Quartet. When Mehldau plays a song you know the words to, you can tell he knows them too. His phrasing reflects a vocal line even after he wanders off the melody. At four minutes, that one’s the airplay pick. I daresay his right hand sings “My Valentine” better than Sir Paul did. The tune is McCartney in romantic Michel Legrand big-ballad mode. Mehldau anchors it to a Bill Evans-like two-chord vamp, ever mutating. There’s a marvelous (tiny) moment a minute or so in, before the first time into bridge, when amidst the gossamer melodizing the pianist quietly slips in an uncouth high note, quickly redeemed when it’s revealed to be the start of a passing phrase one octave up. It’s a little window into the games he plays. 

There’s also one more (mostly) McCartney song and big movie ballad (from A Hard Day’s Night), “And I Love Her,” where Mehldau makes pivotal use of the four-note signature riff George Harrison cooked up. This number—one of three topping nine minutes—gets a bluesy rideout, where the pianist’s Keith Jarrett influence comes out: The rolling in the river. But his grooving is never absent-minded.

Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, at the boss’ service, keep their textures transparent, so as not to block any piano frequencies. Bass volume doesn’t compete with piano. The drummer goes light on the cymbal wash, and can keep a backbeat firm without walloping. The pair remains ever-sensitive to the pianist’s sudden shifts. I miss them when Mehldau goes off on romantic rubato solo flights mid-performance—though he may use those breaks to alter the mood. 

The other selections are less unusual but get no less attention. “Since I Fell for You” has tinges of gospel cadences and, momentarily, chrome-plated Professor Longhair chords. The way Mehldau frames and embellishes the melody on a bossa-fied “I Concentrate on You” functions as a primer on his gifts: The hesitations, the constantly readjusted dynamics and changes in register, the way he’ll surround a simple phrase with a coiled-snake arpeggio or a smoky haze, the way he gives everything time to breathe when it would be so easy to overplay.

Nonesuch, LP or CD

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