Two years after Largo , pianist Brad Mehldau returns to more familiar territory with Anything Goes , his first studio trio recording in four years. Familiar it may beas he reconvenes his empathetic relationship with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossybut safe it is not.
On a programme surprisingly devoid of original material, Mehldau still manages to take a number of worn chestnuts and reinvigorate them by liberally reworking their structures. "Get Happy" is played in 7/4, and while the melody is discernable, that's the only thing that is recognizable. Mehldau and the trio use it as a starting point for individual and collective improvisations that set the tone for the rest of the album. Mehldau has never sounded better and for the first time there is the sense that, while his technical skills are clearly evident, he seems more relaxed, focusing with complete intent on the music and very little on his virtuoso abilities.
Group interplay has always been key for this group; Grenadier and Rossy have always been far more than mere accompanists, but as the group visits Radiohead territory once again for "Everything In Its Right Place," there is a sense of growth in their ability to communicate. While the tune is little more than a vamp, they manage to create subtle rhythmic shifts, implied pulses and dynamic variations that keep it completely engrossing for nearly seven minutes.
The general philosophy seems to be the more familiar the tune, the more generous the reinvention. "Anything Goes" is reworked into a 5/4 signature, with the harmonic re-imagining so great that the you have to work to find the structure of the original song. And it is Grenadier who introduces the theme of "Smile" over a 6/8 piano motif and percussion so light that Rossy almost seems to be breathing on his kit. On the other hand, "Dreamsville" and the light bossa of "Tres Palabras" are played fairly straight, as Grenadier and Rossy come the closest to being a traditional rhythm section. Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" is also played fairly straight up, at least at first. Mehldau manages to capture the essence of the tune while, at the same time, eschewing the more overtly gospel changes of the verse, then using the bridge as a jumping-off point for more extended group improvisation.
Together for over eight years, Mehldau and his trio stand as one of the longest-lasting groups in jazz today, and they just keep getting better; they have long left the ranks of the imitative, and developed a personal vernacular. But with Anything Goes , they take things to a new level of interplay and invention; and while it is hard to top the trio's outstanding live recordings, this record definitely stands as their best studio effort.