Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode
The very first notes of the Brad Mehldau Trio's Ode sound rich, lyrical and full of energy. This may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the pianist's work, but loyal followers of Mehldau know he brings an unusual intensity to his work, particularly his solo projects and the collaborations with his trio (currently bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard). This, the first studio trio recording since Day Is Done (Nonesuch, 2005), is no exception.
Thus, a homage to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, "M.B.," might serve as a dramatic conclusion to another artist's album, but here opens a non-stop stream of invention. Multiple eclectic threads appear in Mehldau's playing: classical, ragtime, pop and blues are only the most obvious components of a personal style in which the pianist not only executes the structure, but also communicates the emotional quotient intrinsic to each genre as well.
In a restatement of the main melodic motif of "26," the threesome take some relative respite during the otherwise breathless performance, while "Dream Sketch" lives up to its evocative title: piano, bass and drums subtly tradeoff rhythm amid melodic duties during the course of the track. The individual virtuosity and collective camaraderie of Mehldau, Grenadier and Ballard is a wonder to hear because it is so rare and so deeply ingrained in their relationship.
The trio is in tune not just with each other but with the material itself. Each musician proffers intricate detail on their respective instrument. In his explanatory essay on the CD's enclosed booklet, Mehldau explains the thought process behind the conception and execution of composing and playing in general, but also as it applies to Ode; the deep thought and reflection he brings to his writing and performance also illuminates the creative process in general.
Not surprisingly, there is an inherent musicality to the prose, similar to that which arises from Mehldau's musicianship and that of his band mates. The dynamics are impeccable as the individual selections unfolds as an album; while Mehldau sets the tone on a given cut, such as the playful air on "Twiggy," it is at the initial appearance of the rhythm section, when it picks up on that atmosphere, that grows exponentially through the track. Each musician embroiders the tune itself and interacts with his partners in a lighter than air piece that, like the other 11 tracks here, becomes a direct reflection of its subject (here a facetious nickname for Brad Mehldau's wife).
Other sources of song on Ode include the pianist's child ("Days of Dilbert Delaney"), other musicians ("Kurt Vibe," for guitarist Rosenwinkel), motion picture characters ("Eulogy for George Hanson," Jack Nicholson's character in the film Easy Rider) and comic book heroes ("Aquaman"). The explanation of the imaginary persona of "Stan The Man" reaffirms that, contrary to his often dour expression-not to mention the academic tone of his prose-Brad Mehldau does indeed have a sense of humor.
In the cover photos of the disc, the musicians in the Brad Mehldau Trio are beginning to show their age, but the graying hair and lines on their respective visages, like the music within the digi-pak, is a sign of the maturity, experience and wisdom they present with uncommon clarity.
Tracks: M.B.; Ode; 26; Dream Sketch; Bee Blues; Twiggy; Kurt Vibe; Stan the Man; Eulogy for George Hanson; Aquaman; Days of Dilbert Delaney.
Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.