Brad Mehldau Trio: Where Do You Start (2012)
For some, this kind of accelerated release schedule can be a problem, but if guitarist Bill Frisell has proven anything, with four albums in the space of less than thirty monthsfrom Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz, 2010) through Floratone II (Savoy Jazz, 2012)it's that if you've established a strong fan base, you can be more aggressive with your release schedule. Despite being literally a generation apart, Mehldau's similarly rapid ascensionsince first appearing in the early 1990s, to a rarefied space occupied, in his case, by living pianists including Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancockhas been the direct result of a discography with plenty of hits and really no misses of which to speak.
Of course there's a difference when Mehldau, longtime bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard tackle cover material rather than a set of originals, although Where Do You Start's eclectic song selectionranging from well-worn standards like saxophonist Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" (taken at a fast clip, with the familiar melody skewed ever so slightly) to Billy Roberts' near- Jungian hit for Jimi Hendrix, "Hey Joe" (surprisingly literal, even leading to the psychedelic guitar legend's familiar power riff)provides and encourages the same flexibility and freedom as Mehldau's own writing. The sole Mehldau piece, "Jam," is really just a vamp that is tagged to the end of a gentle reading of Chico Buarque's "Samba E Amor," featuring a lengthy but wonderfully restrained solo that reaffirms the pianist is now in a place where he's nothing left to prove.
Of course, Mehldau burns aplenty elsewhere, with the kind of frightening two-hand technique that has distinguished him from so many others. His "Hey Joe" may be relatively faithful, as is "Got Me Wrong," but the Alice in Chains hit provides a chance, in his impressive opening solo, for the pianist to set a very high bar for the rest of the set. From a soft look at Sufjan Stevens' "Holland," that is as much a feature for Grenadier's spare but perfect choices, to a more straight-ahead take on trumpeter Clifford Brown's "Brownie Speaks" (but still, with Mehldau's fugue-like approach), and a particularly lyrical close with the Mandel/Bergman/Bergman title track, Where Do You Start isn't so much an alternative as it is further evidenceas if any were neededof this tremendous trio's ability to take any materialold, new, borrowed or originaland make it firmly its own.
Track Listing: Got Me Wrong; Holland; Brownie Speaks; Baby Plays Around; Airegin; Hey Joe; Samba e Amor; Jam; Time Has Told Me; Aquelas Coisas Todas; Where Do You Start?
Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.
Record Label: Nonesuch Records
Style: Modern Jazz