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