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Brad Mehldau's Opening, Middle and Endgame

By Published: October 7, 2003

AAJ: Jarrett is sited as one of your influences. Who else do you consider formative - pianists or not?

BM: I think what I've said is that Jarrett is a major inspiration, although it may have gotten changed in print or taken out of context, as is often the case. There's a difference between inspiration and influence. I get inspired by greatness - he has it. But I don't think my trio sounds anything like his; I'm actually not really a fan of his trio; it's his solo stuff that moves me.

In terms of influence, one discourse that's curiously non-existent over players of my generation is: how we are influenced by our musical peers - the living breathing people we are actively playing with and listening to now, players of our own generation. Two of my greatest influences? Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy, the bassist and drummer I've worked with consistently for the last 8 years. They've not only helped me build an identity; they are part of my identity as a player, inseparable.

When I came to New York, I was hugely influenced by players who were a little ahead of me by a few years in age and experience, and I checked out what they were doing, what their core musical values were, and I grabbed on to some of those values, mimicking them at first: Larry Goldings, more known for his great organ playing these days, but a seriously amazing jazz pianist, was one I heard right away in New York when I came there in 1998, and I copped some of his stuff - his strength and consistency playing in a rhythm section, his full approach to the instrument. Kevin Hayes is another pianist who I heard a lot when I came to New York, and I probably copped some of his harmonic stuff from all those nights hearing him at the Village Gate: a way of stepping out of the prescribed harmony by superimposing different chords on top of that harmony, where the bassist acts more as a pedal point to what you're doing - that's a lot of what I've explored with my trio over the years, and Kevin was the first one I heard and watched doing that live in his own way, back in 1990 or whatever. Seeing someone doing something live has a more immediate effect than hearing it on a record. The guitarist Peter Bernstein is someone I've had the pleasure of working with over the years, and he's been a strong influence: importance of laying melodic phrases and not just running licks, leaving space, pacing a set, picking standards, approaching a standard in your own way - I watched how he did that. Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jesse Davis, David Sanchez- all these people I've gotten to work with, they've influenced my playing and writing immensely.

AAJ: How was it working with Shorter on Alegria ?

BM: Great. Wayne is one of my heroes. That was a dream come true. I love his band now with John Patittuci, Danilo Perez, and Brian Blade.

AAJ: And being in Josh Redman's group?

BM: The most rewarding 'band' band that I've ever been in. Josh has his own musical vision, and is a good leader - strong, but not dictatorial. Everyone grew together in that band.

AAJ: And the experience of leading a trio?

BM: I bring the material in, material that I think Jorge and Larry will find something to do with that's different and new. Sometimes it doesn't work. When it does work, the tune becomes something else that I never could have predicted.

AAJ: Largo is your first recording as a leader to use electronic elements and pop aesthetics (for lack of a better term). The music comes across as expansive and timeless, seemingly able to go anywhere at any time, dynamically, rhythmically, harmonically...and from both arranging and timbral standpoints, it takes chances on all fronts. Was this your conception or were you just open about it?

BM: Thanks for the compliment. My conception was to be open about it. I had 6 days in the studio, I had a certain amount of stuff written out, but it was more like a guide. I also had certain things that I wanted to try - things that Jon and I had discussed, a lot of his ideas really- that were not written out at all. So at the end of 6 days, we had a pile of music recorded. Instead of trying to assemble a record that focused on one genre within all that - the rock based stuff, the jammy stuff, the jazz stuff - Jon and I decided, I think as he put it - to 'make eclecticism the thing'. The unifying factor was that there wasn't one specific unifying factor sonically or genre-wise; rather, there were several strains interconnecting throughout the record, referring to each other indirectly.

AAJ: Jon Brion (producer/musician of Aimee Mann/'Magnolia'/Fiona Apple fame) produced. How did you come to work together and what did he bring to the project?

BM: I was a fan of Jon's for a year before I met him, hearing him at the club, Largo. Then we met and for a good three years had a bunch of wonderful conversations about music - some of the best conversations I've ever had about anything. They were always full of, 'Yes exactly!' 'That's right!' He was in a different milieu than I musically but I just loved what he was doing musically in his performances. It grabbed me; I got it. He was and is one of those musicians who put me in awe. He has it all - beautiful songwriter and lyricist, natural strong sense of arranging and orchestration, an enviable encyclopedic knowledge of the recording studio and unorthodox recording techniques as a means to a creative end. Last but not least, he is the ideal producer, because he has the ability to grasp what makes a musician do what they do best, and how to isolate that, then put it in a whole other context that will surprise and delight that musician. That's what he did with me.

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