Konitz/Mehldau/Haden: Another Shade of Blue
Put these three highly individualized players in a room together and the music will take to glorious flight. It’s that simple. This drumless trio thrilled us back in 1997 with Alone Together, and they’re back to thrill us again. No surprises in the format department: once again, the saxophonist, pianist, and bassist ruminate at length on a set of often-played standards. In lesser hands the conventional repertoire and subdued vibe could induce yawns. But combine Konitz’s alto hues with Mehldau’s harmonic thickets and Haden’s unerring pocket, and you’re on the edge of your seat through seventeen-plus minutes of "Body and Soul."
Konitz and Mehldau vary the sonic palette by playing "Everything Happens to Me" as a sax/piano duo, with Haden laying out. Konitz solos and "That Old Black Magic" floats by for a second, evaporating as soon as it appears. Mehldau begins his dissection of "What’s New" with a detour into "Young and Foolish," and Haden sticks to him like glue. Consistently, the young pianist provides Konitz with chordal roadmaps that verge on telepathic. Haden solos tenderly on "Body and Soul," on the slow-blues opener "Another Shade of Blue," and on "All of Us," an apt closer based on "All of Me" changes.
This trio represents three generations, and each player in his own way has made bold strokes without abandoning the tradition. Konitz, elder statesman and traditionalist, fit right in with not-so-traditional trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler on his 1997 ECM release, Angel Song. (That album, incidentally, also featured a drumless ensemble.) Haden helped birth the avant-garde with Ornette Coleman and yet can play the hell out of the mainstream with pianist Kenny Barron. And Mehldau, with his own extraordinary trio, has made a mark by stretching conventional forms to their breaking point, with increasingly explosive results. Another Shade of Blue, like its predecessor, is an important historical document, showing how three musicians spanning the latter half of jazz’s century have chosen to interpret their inheritance, never once losing sight of what really matters: making beautiful music.