Brad’s upcoming album “Finding Gabriel” is available to listen to first on NPR. Also included is a review from noted critic Nate Chinen. Click below to listen to the album and read the review.
WBGO Premiered Brad’s “O Ephraim” from his upcoming Finding Gabriel album, due May 17 on Nonesuch Records. Following is an excerpt from the article:
The often-senseless chaos of our present age has inspired every form of new artistic expression, from television dramas to realist novels. For pianist and composer Brad Mehldau, it yielded a striking and unorthodox album, Finding Gabriel, which Nonesuch will release on May 17.
The album comes out of a few recent preoccupations, including the Biblical Old Testament, and in particular the prophetic works of Daniel and Hosea. “The Bible felt like a corollary and perhaps a guide to the present day — one long nightmare or a signpost leading to potential gnosis, depending on how you read it,” Mehldau reflects in an album statement.
“O Ephraim,” which has its premiere here, borrows its title from Hosea 6:4, a passage of admonition. (“O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”)
Another contributing factor on Finding Gabriel is the OB-6 synthesizer, which Mehldau has added to his arsenal. On “O Ephraim” he features that instrument along with Fender Rhodes and acoustic pianos, Musser Ampli-Celeste, Morfbeats gamelan strips, drums and vocals. It’s a multilayered solo performance — one of several on the album, which elsewhere features the likes of vocalist Becca Stevens, drummer Mark Guiliana and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.
Finding Gabriel will be released on Nonesuch Records on May 17; preorder here.
Hi everyone, hope you are well. I just arrived home from the road and found this fantastic gift from Louis Cole – both vinyl and CD! I was very glad to play on a track for this project. It’s a beautiful record. Probably a lot of you have already checked this as it’s been out for several months but if you haven’t, do have a listen! Louis bringing it on the compositions, drumming and singing. Original and very here and-now.
Brad Mehldau's Finding Gabriel will be released on Nonesuch Records on May 17, 2019. The album comprises nine thematically related songs by Mehldau and features performances by him on piano, synthesizers, percussion, and Fender Rhodes, as well as vocals. Guest musicians include Ambrose Akinmusire, Sara Caswell, Kurt Elling, Joel Frahm, Mark Guiliana, Gabriel Kahane, and Becca Stevens, among others. Full track listing and credits are below.
Finding Gabriel is available for pre-order now at iTunes and the Nonesuch Store, where the track "The Garden" may be downloaded immediately. It will also stream at Spotify, Apple Music, and other digital service providers. Nonesuch Store pre-orders include an exclusive, limited-edition print.
Hello everyone, I’m very excited to premiere a song cycle tomorrow here in Schloss Elmau. I wrote for it tenor Ian Bostridge to sing with myself accompanying. The second half of the program is Schumann’s Dichterliebe. We’ll continue a tour in Paris, London, Barcelona, Hamburg, Berlin and Luxembourg. In the photo I’m flanked by Dietmar Müller-Elmau on my left, who generously invited us to spend a week here rehearsing and preparing the music; and on my left by Ian Bostridge. It’s a dream to work with him! We will bring this program to North America next fall.
Brad will premiere a new song cycle 'The Folly of Desire' with British tenor Ian Bostridge at concert halls in Europe starting this February
After seeing each other perform at Schloss Elmau in Germany a few years ago, Brad and Ian quickly professed their admiration for each other's work. They've stayed in touch ever since, corresponding about everything from their shared love of lieder to Bach and jazz.
This friendship ignited a creative spark and Brad began writing new music specifically with Ian in mind. When he shared the compositions with Ian, the two musicians decided to expand the work into a song cycle that explores the theme of the modern sinuous nature of human desire as it exists in love and adoration. The result is The Folly of Desire, a song cycle composed by Brad with lyrics from the poetry of Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, Brecht, Yeats, Goethe, Blake, and more. Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe ("A Poet's Love")fittingly completes the concert program.
Brad and Ian return to Schloss Elmau in February for a preview concert, with the official world premiere of The Folly of Desire the next evening at Philharmonie de Paris, and more performances to follow. Scroll below and click for ticket information and stay tuned for a US tour schedule soon!
The Folly of Desire was co-commissioned by Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Wigmore Hall, Stanford Live at Stanford University, and Carnegie Hall.
THE FOLLY OF DESIRE TOUR DATES
24 Feb / Elmau, DE / Schloss Elmau
25 Feb / Paris, FR / Philharmonie de Paris
26 Feb / Barcelona, ES / L'Auditori
28 Feb / Hamburg, DE / Elbphilharmonie
03 Mar / London, UK / Wigmore Hall
05 Mar / Luxembourg City, LU / Philharmonie Luxembourg
06 Mar / Berlin, DE / Berlin Philharmoniker
Hope you are all well. If you have time I’d like to tell you about a new release from musician Kyle Crane. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel turned me on to him and connected us. Kyle is a drummer but much more - a composer and maker of sonic landscapes. The music takes you on a journey. I got to play on one track, “Kaleidoscope”, on his new record. The project is called Crane Like The Bird. You can hear the track on Spotify below, and see more information and images on Instagram.
Saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Brad Mehldau were among the performers in this year's edition of NPR Music's Toast of the Nation, an annual New Year's Eve show of six hour-long jazz performances to help ring in the New Year in style. Redman and Mehldau's set captures their 2016 duo performance at Blue Note Tokyo, including Brad Mehldau's "Jedediah," the Monk-inspired piece "Let's Call This," the standard "My Ideal," and Redman's The Oneness of Two (In Three)," and a bit of Charlie Parker's "Ornithology." You can hear it below.
"Two of my favorite albums that came out [in 2018] were from my old friends Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman, both of whom recently picked up Grammy nominations," says host Christian McBride. "These guys are great friends and have been playing together since the early '90s. A few years back, they decided to join forces once more to record a live album called Nearness. You can hear how well they connect musically."
Nearness, Redman and Mehldau's first duo album together, was recorded live on tour in Europe in 2011 and features all different tracks than the set heard below. "The pair are so well matched," says BBC Music Magazine in a five-star album review. "Both are extraordinary, scintillating improvisers bursting with energy, yet they have great ears for one another." Mojo says: "They create a special telepathic musical synergy in each other’s company."
To pick up a copy of Nearness, or the 2018 Grammy-nominated Redman and Mehldau albums to which McBride refers, visit the Nonesuch Store now.
Following is an excerpt of a review from Jazzwise on December 13, 2018
The entire spectrum can dazzle at Jazztopad, a Polish festival in the south-western city of Wrocław, which has just reached its 15th edition. Gigs happen on all levels, from the new and impressive main concert hall of the National Forum of Music, down to the heavy late-night jam sessions in the brick basement of Mleczarnia, a café that’s just along the street. We could find pianist Brad Mehldau in both locations.
He gave the premiere of his 'Piano Concerto', with the NFM Philharmonic, but opened with an unexpected solo set, which began by merging Bach into Radiohead, proceeding through an older school of standards which included the wise selection of Frank Loesser’s ‘Inchworm’, in homage to Danny Kaye. The grand concerto revealed Mehldau as a semi-traditionalist, unlike, let’s say, Uri Caine. Mehldau’s work favoured a romantic, lyrical sweep, definitely rural as opposed to urban. Prominent harp and tubular bells eased the transition towards the second section’s almost suburban pointillism, with the composer making responses, commenting on the massed string phrases, sometimes alone, other times with the entire ranks.
Jazzwise Named Brad’s Seymour Read the Constitution! and After Bach as two of their “Top 20 Jazz Albums” of 2018. Following are reviews for each album.
#7: After Bach
“As a professional organist, much of Bach’s work took the form of improvisation, and during his lifetime it was the virtuosity and complexity of these improvisations for which he was most admired,” writes Timo Andres in his liner note. “Some three centuries after the fact, Brad Mehldau takes up this tradition and applies it to a frustratingly unknowable aspect of Bach’s art.” As we all know, however, J.S. Bach invented modern jazz – where would Bird have been without him? – and the likes of Jacques Loussier have regularly jazzed up the great German keyboard improviser’s back catalogue, to stirring and popular effect. Mehldau doesn’t take the easy route, you wouldn’t expect him to – and though some passages of ‘Before Bach: Benediction’ may have you squeezing your eyes as you try to follow his musical thoughts, you wouldn’t want him to either. Here he pairs straight recitals of four preludes and one fugue from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier with compositions and improvisations inspired by them: ‘After Bachs’. Is the result jazz? The densely – and, given its title, appropriately – dreamy ‘After Bach: Dream’ probably owes more to Debussy than any later jazzy interpreter of Herr B. But who cares? After Bach probably won’t become your favourite Mehldau release, but you’ll find it hard to resist all the same.
– Robert Shore
#4: Seymour Reads the Constitution!
“Brad Mehldau’s teasing talent for setting a mood of fascinating expectation and then unhurriedly revealing its multiple implications has been a marvel of contemporary jazz since the 1990s, and rarely more so than on this riveting seventh album featuring his longterm trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. Mehldau plays that game from the first moments of the standout opener, ‘Spiral’ – at first alone and almost absent-mindedly spinning a descending eight-note ostinato, then floating a spacious treble melody over it, quickly joined by a bass pulse and discreet latin snare-tick to unwrap a long piano improv of asymmetrical lines, playful delays, and fresh melodies as that hypnotic left-hand mantra murmurs on. The title-track, a deceptively languid waltz with a central role for the imaginative Grenadier, similarly kindles a stream of intensifying variations in which Mehldau never raises his pianistic voice. ‘Almost Like Being In Love’ (one of five covers) is playful and springy, Elmo Hope’s ‘De-Dah’ is rhythmically jagged and then euphorically-swinging bebop, Brian Wilson’s ‘Friends’ is massaged by slinky long lines and hints of blues, Sam Rivers’ ‘Beatrice’ is a tender melody soon stirred into a Bill Evans-reminiscent trio sprint that propels the leader into some of his most freewheeling doubletime flights. The ever-empathic Mehldau trio might offer a familiar brew, but it never stops fizzing with life.”
– John Fordham
Brad Mehldau was nominated in two categories for the 61st annual Grammy Awards, to be presented on February 10, 2019.
Best Improvised Jazz Solo:
De-Dah (track from Seymour Reads the Constitution!)
Best Jazz Instrumental Album:
Seymour Reads the Constitution!
Dear friends, Brad here. I hope everyone is well. Just wanted to share some photos of a recent trip to Hamburg. It was a deep honor to be invited by Steinway Hamburg to choose a piano for the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The beautiful “Ellphie” will now have 3 pianos at its disposal. There were four pianos for me to choose from as you see in the first photo; I chose the one I’m seated at after about an hour of playing all of them. It wasn’t too difficult. It has a warm tone and sings back at you. Absolute control and possibility! It is not bright; it’s not the one for Rach 3. But the Elb already has that one actually.
Afterwards I got a tour of Steinway’s factory from my generous host, Gerrit Glaner, Head of Steinway C&A in Hamburg, pictured opening the large doors to the factory below. That was inspiring and I learned a lot in a very short amount of time about the construction of these amazing instruments. I probably retained about 12% of what Gerrit explained to me, but it was great stuff.
Hello everybody, hope you are all well and just wanted to mention that there’s a new live duo recording of the late great Charlie Haden and I that’s been recently released. It’s called Long Ago And Far Away. Here is a review of it from Financial Times. The music comes from a concert at the EnjoyJazz festival in Mannheim, Germany from 2007. It was a special night with a fantastic audience. Their focused listening, I believe, helped the music unfold at a meditative pace. It’s a strong testament, I think, to Charlie’s completely free way of playing, on tracks like the title track or the Bird blues Au Privave. This kind of harmonic freedom was only possible with Charlie and it was exhilarating to interact with him musically when he was around. He was also an important mentor for me.
Charlie lived in Malibu, California in the time I knew him and his wife, my dear friend Ruth Haden (who was largely responsible for shepherding this record into existence, with warm thanks to Impulse France for releasing it), is still there. As many of you probably know, one of the fires in California, known as the Woolsey fire, is still burning in Malibu. We send our prayers to Ruth and all of the people in the beautiful state of California who have already suffered from these devastating fires, in towns like Paradise further north as well. I am so sorry for the loss and pain that people have endured and wish them strength.
Hello everyone, Brad here. Two quick items:
First I want to join others in extending my condolences to Roy Hargrove’s family and loved ones. I met Roy years ago in 1988 when we were both young and he was incredible then - a fully formed musician, completely there, nothing missing. I played with him (late night jam session) not even 5 months ago at Smalls and he sounded just as great, even better - perfect solos with absolute economy. High musicality tempered with undeniable bad-assed coolness; fire and brimstone when the music called for it yet a true romantic in his heart, all heart. That was Roy. He was a true artist and I’ll miss him with everyone else.
Second, for U.S. citizens: Please go and vote today! (I did my absentee last week). In my lifetime there has never been a mid term election as important as this one. Vote with your conscience but vote - even if those bastards might already be hacking the electronic voting machines. Okay enough preaching. Have a great day everyone and over the next couple weeks I’ll be giving some news about projects I’ve been involved in that have been fun and gratifying. Will try not to clog your inbox too much.
“The pianist Brad Mehldau has led this iteration of his pace-setting trio … since 2005, and it has evolved into a graceful powerhouse, equally savvy about groove and harmony.”
– New York Times
“Three musicians who share a common aesthetic … in which gestures are stated softly and with utmost subtlety ... When music-making becomes this transparent, listeners can relish details of texture and voicing.”
– Chicago Tribune
Nonesuch Records releases the Brad Mehldau Trio’s Seymour Reads the Constitution! on May 18, 2018. The pianist and his longtime trio, which includes drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier, perform three Mehldau originals combined with interpretations of pop songs (Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson), jazz tunes (Elmo Hope, Sam Rivers), and one work from the American songbook (Frederick Loewe’s “Almost Like Being in Love”). Seymour Reads the Constitution! is available for pre-order now at iTunes and the Nonesuch Store, where an instant download of the album track “Spiral“ is included with purchase. The album also can be heard on Spotify and Apple Music.
The Trio’s previous release, Blues and Ballads (2016), received critical acclaim, with the Guardian saying, “Mehldau is a genius (and a still-improving one) at taking predictable materials to unpredictable destinations … These are old songs subjected to an old jazz method, but brought scintillatingly into the here and now.” Mehldau released the solo album After Bach earlier this year, comprising the pianist/composer’s recordings of four preludes and one fugue from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, each followed by an “After Bach” piece written by Mehldau and inspired by its WTC mate. The Financial Times said of After Bach, “As each piece gathers momentum, fresh melodies emerge, change shape and are developed anew over voicings that shimmer, fade and rumble to a peak. And, following Bach, Mehldau’s improvisations unfold with an iron inner logic, a reminder … that Bach, in his day, was admired more for his abilities as an improviser than for his written scripts.”
Brad Mehldau’s Nonesuch debut was the 2004 solo disc Live in Tokyo. He has since released seven albums with his trio: House on Hill, Day Is Done, Brad Mehldau Trio Live, Ode, Where Do You Start, Blues and Ballads, and Seymour Reads the Constitution!. His collaborative records on the label include Love Sublime, Highway Rider, Metheny Mehldau, Metheny Mehldau Quartet, Modern Music, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, Nearness with Joshua Redman, and Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau. His additional solo albums on Nonesuch include Live in Marciac and the eight-LP/four-CD 10 Years Solo Live, which the New York Times says “contains some of the most impressive pianism he has captured on record.”
Brad Mehldau Trio, Seymour Reads the Constitution!
Written by Brad Mehldau
2. Seymour Reads the Constitution!
Written by Brad Mehldau
3. Almost Like Being in Love
Written by Frederick Loewe
Written by Elmo Hope
Written by Brian Wilson
6. Ten Tune
Written by Brad Mehldau
7. Great Day
Written by Paul McCartney
Written by Sam Rivers
Album features selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier alongside Mehldau originals they inspired
“A balance of space and intensity perfectly struck … An unaccompanied performance split between respectfully straight recitals of several JS Bach classics, and densely dazzling compositions and improvisations inspired by them.”—Guardian
Nonesuch releases Brad Mehldau’s After Bach on March 9, 2018. The album comprises the pianist/composer’s recordings of four preludes and one fugue from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, each followed by an “After Bach” piece written by Mehldau and inspired by its WTC mate. The album begins with Mehldau’s own “Before Bach: Benediction” and ends with his “Prayer for Healing.” Pre-orders of After Bach are available now at iTunes and nonesuch.com and include an instant download of the album track “After Bach: Rondo.”
As Mehldau’s label mate Timo Andres says in his After Bach liner note, “As a professional organist, much of Bach’s work took the form of improvisation, and during his lifetime it was the virtuosity and complexity of these improvisations for which he was most admired … Some three centuries after the fact, Brad Mehldau takes up this tradition and applies it to a frustratingly unknowable aspect of Bach’s art.”
Andres continues, “There have always been elements of Mehldau’s style that recall Bach, especially his densely-woven voicing—but he’s not striving to imitate or play dress-up. Rather, After Bach surveys their shared ground as keyboardists, improvisers, and composers, making implicit parallels explicit.”
After Bach originated in a work Mehldau first performed in 2015—commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, The National Concert Hall, and Wigmore Hall—called Three Pieces After Bach.
Brad Mehldau’s Nonesuch debut was the 2004 solo disc Live in Tokyo and includes six records with his trio: House on Hill, Day Is Done, Brad Mehldau Trio Live, Ode, Where Do You Start, and Blues and Ballads. His collaborative records on the label include Love Sublime, Highway Rider, Metheny Mehldau, Metheny Mehldau Quartet, Modern Music, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, Nearness with Joshua Redman, and last year’s Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau. His additional solo albums on Nonesuch include Live in Marciac and the eight-LP/four-CD 10 Years Solo Live, which the New York Times says “contains some of the most impressive pianism he has captured on record.”
Brad Mehldau, After Bach
- Before Bach: Benediction
- Prelude No. 3 in C# Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 848
- After Bach: Rondo
- Prelude No. 1 in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 870
- After Bach: Pastorale
- Prelude No. 10 in E Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 855
- After Bach: Flux
- Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 857
- After Bach: Dream
- Fugue No. 16 in G Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 885
- After Bach: Ostinato
- Prayer for Healing
Hi Everyone, it's Brad and I wanted to let you know I'm excited about some upcoming touring coming up with the stellar mandonlisist, singer, songwriter and improviser, Chis Thile. Chris is quite busy now with his relatively new role as MC of Prarie Home Companion, but has found time to perform with me, and I'm very excited. We'll play a lot of material from our new record together. Our first date is in Town Hall this coming Wednesday, and the rest of the dates are here - we'll be in the States first and then later in Europe.
Chris and I wrote some original music for the record, and the sheet music for two of mine, Talahassee Junction and The Watcher, is now available here.
Thanks everyone for your support. We are praying for and wishing everyone strength and grace in all these areas being hit by the extreme weather. Peace and Love.
Hi everyone from Brad. I hope your summer has gone well. I’d like to announce, a bit late, the release of a record from guitarist Peter Bernstein that I’m very proud to be part of. It’s called Signs Live! and was recorded at Dizzy’s in New York City with Christian McBride on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums. Peter was one of my musical peers when I first arrived in New York City years ago in 1988, taught me quite a bit through playing with him, and remains a strong influence on me. Pete’s continuous commitment to melody, song and storytelling a story are all in abundance here, in a great set of music that includes signature compositions of his like Jive Coffee and the groover, Dragonfly, as well as some less familiar ones, like Hidden Pockets. It was a thrill to play in a rhythm section with Christian and Greg, whose musical spirit, imagination and virtuosity are on display here..
With a lot of other people, I’ve been shocked by what happened in Charlottesville last week. My wife had just introduced Roxanne Gay’s book, Hunger, and I was reading it the last few weeks. Now I’m a new fan of hers. If you missed her piece on Charlottesville a few days ago, I recommend reading it. Then, a few days ago, we were horrified to hear about the attacks in Barcelona. Many of us jazz musicians have a special affinity for that romantic, passionate city, and formed close early bonds playing at places like Jamboree right on the Rambla, close to where the attacks were. We wish everyone there strength, and I know that that beautiful city will continue to work its magic and prosper.
As for Charlottesville, I stand with the many people who were dismayed by Trump's verbally equivocating Neo-nazis and those protesting against Neo-nazis. I do not accept this moral relativism. We all saw the very real violence that came from the Neo-nazi camp, after all. Trump’s own amorality is a function of his essentially narcissistic make up, and his deep stupidity. He does not have the imagination to generate empathy for others, and therefore will never do anything good for the U.S. or the world. That could change only with a radical transformation of his character. I suppose it’s possible. In the meantime, we are biding our time until he is impeached or leaves.
I am not completely pessimistic because I believe that what we are witnessing in both events - Charlottesville and Barcelona - is the death-throes of ideologies that are already obsolete. This is not to make light of the violence. But there is a much bigger shift towards harmony and inclusivity. There is more communication taking place about race in America, and, as we’ve seen, people are being held accountable for racist acts in a more open light. This violent backlash, and the sham presidency of Trump that encouraged it - cannot reverse a course which is already in place. I am humbled by all of this. There is a lot to learn, if I listen. The actions I take, accordingly, will reverberate - my children will listen and be informed by them, for example. Yesterday someone shared a quote with me from Goethe: “Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless."
Brad Mehldau Trio, Barbican, London
By: Mike Hobbart
Inspirational original compositions made up the bulk of this set from the influential pianist’s trio.
Brad Mehldau’s first piano-trio releases set pithy reconstructions of Thelonious Monk alongside elegiac readings of Beatles classics, and made the work of Radiohead and Nick Drake acceptable material for the jazz repertoire.
But at this performance, the first cover, Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right by Me”, came as an ovation-winning encore, while the meat of the performance presented new compositions with working titles — “a blues, sort of” opened, there was “a waltz, sort of”, and the second number was a rhythmic figure worked out by drummer Jeff Ballard: “I came up with a melody,” said Mehldau.
Not that there was anything slapdash about the material. The themes integrated precisely voiced block piano chords with acutely matched thrums from Larry Grenadier’s bass, while bittersweet melodies danced over counterpoint riffs, and unison lines appeared as if by magic. The only criticism was that the band seemed a little stiff in the theme when compared to the interplay that followed.
Mehldau’s influence on contemporary jazz piano is not limited to expanding the repertoire. His bittersweet left-hand melodies, clusters of dense mid-range chords and ability to conjoin the angularity of Monk with classical romance are a source of inspiration for the current generation of jazz pianists.
Here, the Mehldau aesthetic dazzled from the outset. The first number compressed Monk, Bach and the blues into a functioning whole, the second was full of rhythmic twiddles and that majestic left hand, and the third was a waltz with a pretty theme supported by a swish of drums — the piece sparked to life when the pulse tightened mid-solo.
At first, the highlight moments were all Mehldau’s. His first solo delivered a succession of mesmerisingly minute variations on a tricky theme, while on the minor-key “Strange Gift” his blues inflections were soulful and cliché free.
Drummer Ballard delivered a series of solos in his ungainly yet effective style, but it was Grenadier, working closely with the pianist throughout, whose solos roused the crowd later in the set. The first, on the rhythmically unusual “Green M&Ms”, was melodic and agile; the second followed the shape of the lovely Mehldau ballad that ensured the encore. “It’s the first ballad I’ve written that I want to play on,” said Mehldau. “And I’m 46.” Mike Hobart
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Brad Meldhau on brilliant form at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, plus all the best jazz and folk of 2017
By: Ivan Hewett
Brad Mehldau is an aristocrat among jazz pianists. He doesn’t stoop to dazzling finger-work to seize our attention, or reach into the piano’s innards to make odd sounds (a practice that seems to be almost de rigueur among jazz pianists these days). When he loped on to the stage last night, he welcomed us to “this beautiful and very spiritual venue”, gesturing round the lofty space of St Andrew’s Hall.
This doesn’t mean the gig was austere or lacking musical rewards. It’s just that the rewards were in small subtleties that might pass you by, if you weren’t playing very close attention.
In the first number Gentle John (a homage to jazz guitarist John Scofield) the restless descending bass under the melody was balanced by an equally restless rising bass in the “middle eight”, but Mehldau didn’t make a big deal of this. One was aware of it subliminally, as part of the number’s gentle charm.
This was a number from the trio’s recent album Blues and Ballads, a return for Mehldau to acoustic jazz after a long excursus into electronic keyboards. One sensed a man savouring the pleasures of a straightforward blues sequence and a curving melody, after a long absence. One would never have thought jazz piano’s stern philosopher could write a delightful almost-sentimental ballad, with strong echoes of Bill Evans. Yet it duly arrived, in the penultimate number, enlivened with a shapely, classically restrained solo from bassist Larry Grenadier (he and drummer Jeff Ballard share Mehldau’s distaste for empty virtuosity).
At the opposite pole was a new number, as yet untitled, which played with a very dark rising four-chord sequence. It was ingenious, to be sure, and the final breaking out into harmonic sunlight was brilliantly stage-managed, but the pay-off didn’t compensate for the overall dourness. Much more rewarding was Green M & M’s, based on a rushing five-beat bass pattern which – unlike the static jazz bass patterns one so often hears – danced through a dozen harmonies in as many seconds. The virtuosity with which all three players flung opposing rhythms against this pattern was simply astounding. Just as rewarding were the supple and harmonically searching variations Mehldau conjured on Lennon & McCartney’s And I Love Her. Here Mehldau often spun two improvised lines at once, showing that his acquaintance with Bach is now rubbing off on his jazz. Like all the best artists, Mehldau never stops growing.
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