Published since 2003
DC writes regularly about rock and roll, jazz and the blues, composing reviews of CD's, DVD's, live performances, books and films, as well as conducting interviews.
Brad Mehldau is such a commanding presence as a musician, he overshadowed saxophonist Joshua Redman virtually throughout the duo's ninety-minute performance on Vermont's Flynn Performing Arts Center MainStage on April 28th. The most intense moment of the ninety-minute set arose directly from the depth of passion and detail in the pianist's playing and while his counterpart rose to the occasion as an improvisationalist, he could not match his one-time band mate.
The tone was set for the evening, for all intents and purposes, with the very first selection, a number from Mehldau's Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2010). "The Falcon Will Fly Again" found its author as if in a trance, active body language suggesting the exertion necessary to coax the deep rumbling rhythm from the keyboard in support of the elusive melody. Redman took part, as on the studio recording, but didn't sound so clear or authoritative; instead, he played rather tentatively, glancing off notes rather than hitting them dead-center so they resonated throughout the ornate venue, as did the tones struck by his partner stage left.
That pattern continued through more original material by each man until they chose to cover Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" to the delight of the full-house that was in turns rapturous and rowdy through the course of the evening. Bouncing off the blues changes and each other, Mehldau and Redman played at the same level, albeit a playful one, for the course of the number, their smiles at its conclusion shared with each other as well as, presumably, the audience who cheered so lustily at the cold stop.
The experience was similar on "Interstate Love Song," the grunge band Stone Temple Pilots' number winsomely introduced by Mehldau as a discovery of he and Redman's when they were in the latter's band together in the Nineties. The pair didn't take great chances with this covertruthfully, they didn't take many chances all eveningbut instead alternated playing and playing with the basic riff of the tune.
Redman had found his voice at this point, his playing more enthusiastic as he was clearly warmed up. But that didn't remove the oddity of seeing him sitting side-stage during more than one Mehldau solo interval, seeming to call attention to himself with occasional vocal acclamations: a silent nod in the direction of his peer might have been preferable to avoid the sense he was unnecessarily calling attention to himself. Better still perhaps to retire behind the Steinway piano during such segments to prevent the Vermont audience from being distracted from the all-consuming musicianship of Brad Mehldau.
Not that such an occurrence is likely with the most savvy jazz lover, who no doubt relished a return to the galvanizing sensation of early in the set, just as the duo brought their performance to a close. During these moments when the pianist again elevated the force of his playing to an extent it elicited an almost physical response, it occurred, sacrilegious as it sounds, that this marquee event might have been even more satisfying had it been a solo show of Brad Mehldau's.
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