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Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads

Dan McClenaghan By

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Call Brad Mehldau's Blues and Ballads the pianist's "Every Man Set."

There has been, from the beginning of Mehldau's career, a sense of the cerebral in his approach, with its classical music influences and his deep technical virtuosity. Throw the sometimes dense and erudite writing for selected liner notes (mostly earlier in his career) into that mix, and "Too deep for me" might be a reaction of the perennial everyman.

Except for the beauty.

Melhdau, along with is often lofty intentions and classical influences, has always kept a firm grip on the the more common man side of sounds: Paul McCartney's "Junk" on the masterpiece four disc 10 Year Solo (Nonesuch Records, 2015). Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" from the same set. Burt Bacharach's "Alfie' from Day Is Done, (Nonesuch Records, 2005), (as fine a piano trio recording as you'll find); Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" from that same set. Elvis Costello's "Baby Plays Around," from Where Do You Start (Nonesuch Records, 2012). These wonderful plebeian pieces considered beside—from the Mehldau oeuvre—Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians," a segment of Philip Glass' "String Quartet No. 5," or Brahms' "Intermezzo in E Minor, Op.119: No.2.

The trio opens Blues and Ballads with the memorable "Since I Fell For You," a 1945 tune penned by Buddy Johnson for his Buddy Johnson Orchestra, with his sister, Ella Johnson as vocalist. The tune attained huge popularity in 1963, when Lenny Welch's version hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The trio have slowed it down, so every nuance of mood and emotion in the tune can be savored. Drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier slip into a perfect accompanying mode, as opposed to the now more common style of equality of instrumental input that was pushed to the forefront by the Bill Evans Trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, in the late-fifties. But the rock solid accompanist style for the piano trio proves a refreshing approach, and well-suited to the music at hand.

Elsewhere the trio explores the splendid simplicity of The Beatles "And I Love Her," the melodic genius of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You," the pretty poignancy of Jon Brion's "Little Person," the joyous buoyancy of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," and finally closing out with a dour, melancholy—but lovely in its way—version of Paul McCartney's "My Valentine." All of this played out with a pared down style, getting to the essence of the compositions.

Every recording by this top notch piano trio is a cause for celebration. This one is not an exception.

Track Listing: Since I Fell for You; I Concentrate on You; Little Person; Cheryl; These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); And I Love Her; My Valentine.

Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

Title: Blues and Ballads | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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