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Brad Mehldau: Excitement and Energy

By Published: February 13, 2007
AAJ: Can you compare and contrast House on Hill and Day is Done (Nonesuch, 2005)? Even though Day is Done is a "covers record can you compare the performances on these two a;bums, because to me both are exceptional performances with a musician at the top of his game.

BM: Thank you, I appreciate that. I think that House on Hill is a record that was done with a drummer who played with me for ten years and Day is Done is an exciting record because it was the first record that was done with Jeff, and we've been playing together for about twelve months now. There is a certain excitement and energy between Jeff, Larry and me, and I think that perhaps this added a kind of energy to the music. It included more rhythmic details than the other record. That was interesting to see—the sound that was developed by us playing with Jeff and you can see where we were a year ago.

AAJ: On some bootlegs available there are tracks performed by the trio even before they were recorded in the studio. I assume you play those tunes live until you get the right feeling to record them?

BM: Yeah, that is more of the idea. For me it has always been the best approach: to take a piece of music and start performing it in front of an audience. Until it has a connection with the audience a piece has not been born yet, I guess. It's hard to explain. If I take a song and rehearse it, and if we are going to record it with the guys it won't be fully developed until we play it live several times over the course of a tour. We have our discussions about it, but what happens is that we develop an arrangement for something that I wrote and basically it changes every time we play it on the tour—because we improvise a lot—until we get to a point where we are ready to record it.

AAJ: The band you work mostly with is the trio. What attracted you to this format?

BM: For me I just love playing with a jazz trio. I love other formats like Miles Davis' sextet or Coltrane's quartet. It's just that it doesn't attract me enough to do those other formats too often. The trio is democratic in the sense that even though I pick the material, or write it or arrange it, it's still us three who are shaping the music. For years I've been working so much with the trio and have concentrated on the music that I don't really remember what is so special about it [laughs].

AAJ: Prior to Jorge Rossy leaving the trio, the band had worked together for ten years. What are some of the advantages of having steady personnel over the years?

BM: Well, hopefully what the band would develop is a particular and identifiable sound, and they wouldn't sound like anyone else. They would be developing an identity and that identity is a collective identity and not my identity. It's the identity of all of us together.

The advantage is that we kind of develop a language with each other, hopefully a fluid language. It's like we are having a conversation with each other. For certain things to happen, and to reach a certain creativity, it takes time to introduce yourselves to each other—for that thing to happen because we already know each other. For me, what is most exciting about jazz is the collective improvisation, where there are a bunch of things happening that can be very profound and intellectual, and in order for that level of depth to take place (this is not necessary but) it will come from people who know each other and who have played together for a long time.

AAJ: That is why I see the Art of the Trio series as a process where a band is growing and maturing. How do you look back at these releases?

BM: I can see the growth of that band. For me it's very interesting, except for the title, which wasn't my idea. It was an idea of the guy who put me on the Warner Bros. label—Matt Pierson. I didn't know about that title. I thought, "Wow, man, that sounds really, maybe big, you know?

It was exciting to have that title in 1995. I didn't have a plan to do a series like that. Actually, that is how I develop as a musician. I never make a plan for the future that is big like that. However, retrospectively I look at it as a past and as a confident leader who developed in its own world of identity. Usually, I don't make plans for the future but I do look back at my musical past. So far I see us fully exploring that deeper and deeper. That is how I look back at my past.

AAJ: Largo (Warner Bros., 2002) was a departure for you, as it expanded the basic trio into a bigger band. Even the context of your playing was changed. How do you look back at the recording of this album?

BM: That was a particular recording that really came about from my desire to have a collaboration. I look at it as a collaboration between myself and Jon Brion. Jon Brion is the producer but is also a creative musician. He is someone that I wanted to work with from the first time I heard him. What Jon has is a certain jazz feeling in the way he produces records. He is a very spontaneous person. The way I improvise with melody and harmony and rhythm, he improvises with microphones, arranging decisions and orchestration decisions. He does many things in very spontaneous ways. That brings a lot of surprises. He has great knowledge about things and at the same time the thing I like about him is that he is a kind of retrospectionist. He achieved great sounds for that record which were appropriate for the music we were recording.

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