Brad Mehldau Trio Day Is Done Nonesuch Records
Brad Mehldau is one of jazz's most talented and prolific artists. Through the course of his recording career, he has proved himself open to innovation (Largo) and reverential of tradition (the Art of the Trio series). He is a deeply thoughtful presence (see his liner notes to Elegiac Cycle), but also displays a healthy sense of humor (the inside photos to Places). All those characteristics, nee virtues, are on display on Day is Done.
At the time of the release of the last Mehldau trio album, Anything Goes, word has it two entire albums' worth of material were recorded in a single day, but this new disc is not the companion piece to the previous release. Jeff Ballard, most recently part of Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, has assumed the drummer's seat to partner with bassist extraordinaire Larry Grenadier.
Perhaps that's why the first few moments of the new recording consist of the warm inviting sound of a Grenadier bass figure that sets the stage for the entrance of Ballard. It's only when these two lock inand lock in they do, as if having played as a team for some timethat Mehldau himself makes an appearance for Radiohead's "Knives Out proper, the end result of which is to not just display the spacious clarity of the Mehldau produced sound of the new disc, but the new internal dynamics of the trio.
Ballard's filigreed style of percussion changes the relationship between the three musicians in Mehldau's group. The music is more fluid, Grenadier plays more simply, finding places for himself within the detail of the other's playing (of which there is plenty). Brad Mehldau himself has found a kindred spirit in drummer Ballard, as the two mirror each other intuitively as on this reading of "Alfie.
This modern standard is nestled in a range of tunes that once again startles, even if you're a long time Mehldau follower, used to his eclectic tastes. The Beatles appear here twice, once in "She's Leaving Home, where Mehldau himself embroiders the slightly saccharine melody to bring out its real sentiment and again in "Martha My Dear, which throughout is barely but beautifully recognizable as McCartney's piano-written paean to his sheepdog. On one track after another, the Brad Mehldau Trio slip indiscernibly in and out of the tune itself, improvising in a rich flow of ideas, prompted by, but not obviously tied to, the chord progressions of the song itself, such as Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.
The high-bouncing likes of the latter tune make for a delicious contrast to the soft intimations of the previous rack "Granada. So it is that variety abounds on Day Is Done even within the deliberately limited setting of the three-piece. Changes in both tempo and arrangement abound throughout, most clearly on display within the nine-minutes plus of the title title song, a composition by English folk genius Nick Drake, who's been a constant source of inspiration for Mehldau, with a group and also when he plays solo (see his first Nonesuch release, Live in Tokyo).
It's the mark of the courageous musician to make changes deliberately before changes become necessary, thrust upon by circumstance. Notwithstanding his unconventional approach to the selection of his material or the circumstances surrounding the personnel changes within the Brad Mehldau Trio, the result here is vibrant jazz, the whole of Day Is Done as intoxicating really as the sum of its parts.
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Tracks: Knives Out; Alfie; Martha My Dear; Day is Done; Artis; Turtle Town; She's Leaving Home; Granada; 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; No Moon At All.
Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier; bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.