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Brad Mehldau Trio at the Village Vanguard

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Brad Mehldau Trio at the Village Vanguard New York City Sunday, November 28, 1999
Apparently the Thanksgiving holiday did nothing to diminish the turnout for pianist Brad Mehldau's latest six-night stint at the Village Vanguard. I'm here on Sunday - usually slower than other nights, but not tonight. Both sets are sold out and lines are stretching well outside the door. Mehldau's a major draw, almost making one question highbrow complaints that the public doesn't know great music when it hears it.
Each time out, in addition to new original compositions, Mehldau unfurls fresh treatments of a few chosen standards. Last time it was "How Long Has This Been Going On" and "I'll Be Seeing You," among others. This time the set begins with "The More I See You" and closes with "Long Ago and Far Away." The first is played at a medium tempo and reharmonized in Mehldau's highly unique fashion. Some "Giant Steps" changes can be heard in the C section. "Long Ago" is a good example of a time feel Mehldau has described as "fast but not fast": the tempo is way upstairs, but the trio can make it sit still, hover, simmer on low boil, or spill over the sides in an onslaught of sound. Bassist Larry Grenadier solos particularly well on this finale, and drummer Jorge Rossy reacts with brilliant and intuitive rhythmic support. The tune ends as Mehldau's standards usually end: unceremoniously, on a plain and simple downbeat.
Three brand new, untitled originals are sandwiched between the two standards. The first original rises from the ashes of "The More I See You" as a vamp over a loose, funky three-bar phrase. The segue is defined and rehearsed, but the execution is so natural that it tricks the ear. Until the new melody is heard, you're not sure whether the band is playing a different tune or still vamping on the old one. The second original is a quick, even-eighth melody undergirded by classical-style arpeggiation. It sounds something like an earlier Mehldau piece, "Lament for Linus," but happier. Mehldau's effortlessly bluesy touch and his idiosyncratic approach to phrasing are on full display. The last original, a bright waltz, is short and to the point: Mehldau plays the melody, solos, and takes it out.

Programatically, these new compositions occupy somewhat similar ground. The entire middle of the set, therefore, could stand a bit more variation in tempo and mood. Nonetheless, the continued growth of this trio couldn't be clearer. The personal touch with standards, the elastic sense of time, the riveting tension and release: all these hallmarks of Mehldau's concept are increasingly refined each time his trio returns to its appropriately lofty home base, the Village Vanguard.

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