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Brad Mehldau: After Bach

Doug Collette By

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The exacting rigor in pianist Brad Mehldau's playing made it inevitable he would one day issue a record devoted to a great classical composer. Yet, true to the open-ended implications of its title, After Bach is not merely a recitation of the master's work (not that it really could be, given Mehldau's penchant for improvisation). In fact, the seven original pieces here outnumber the five of Bach's from The Well-Tempered Clavier.

And over the course of the dozen tracks here, Bach pieces such as "Prelude No. 3 in C# Major" often function as interludes in an extended instrumental contemplation. And given that Brad Mehldau's compositions, such as "After Bach: Rondo," are the aural equivalent of his improvisations, that is, involved expositions of ideas exhaustively rendered and forthrightly punctuated, After Bach is of a piece with the man's other work dating back to his membership in Joshua Redman's quartet and collaborations like Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2017).

Interweaving pieces from all three sources—Bach, his own originals and spontaneous creation in the moment—this musician creates an all-enveloping atmosphere. That prevailing mood, crystallizing near mid-point here on his own "After Bach: Pastorale," then into "Prelude No. 10 in E Minor," offers a vivid dream sequence of emotionally-laden performances, all of which are further charged by Mehldau's own engagement: his execution is as carefully-wrought as the concept for this album.

The fact Mehldau maintains an air so permeated with passion up to and through this climactic benediction, "Prayer for Healing," not only further certifies his knowledge of Bach (and the classical mode in general), but his own technical skill as well; not that the latter wasn't beyond reproach before this title was released, but only that each successive display of Mehldau's gifts, in either the recorded or live realm, generates absolute wonder. With equal facility, the pianist manages to adopt a lilting grace even as he probes so deeply into his material.

The only potential disappointment arising from After Bach may be for those who relished Mehldau's written dissertations on some of his earlier releases such as The Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (Warner Bros, 1999) or the solo Elegiac Cycle (Warner Bros, 1999). Still, in Timo Andre's essay in the enclosed booklet (adorned with the same austere graphics as the cover), the author 's play-by-play invariably uncovers one or another down-to-earth aspect of this music. And those insights of his in turn further enhance the enlightenment arising from hearing After Bach.

Track Listing: Before Bach: Benediction; Prelude No. 3 in C# Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 848; After Bach: Rondo; Prelude No. 1 in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 870; After Bach: Pastorale; Prelude No. 10 in E Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 855; After Bach: Flux; Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 857; After Bach: Dream; Fugue No. 16 in G Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 885; After Bach: Ostinato; Prayer for Healing.

Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano.

Title: After Bach | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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