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104

Brad Mehldau Trio in Burlington, Vermont

Doug Collette By

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Is the Brad Mehldau trio the finest acoustic jazz group in the world right now?
Brad Mehldau Trio
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Burlington, Vermont
January 17, 2004

Is The Brad Mehldau Trio the finest acoustic jazz group in the world right now?...You’d answer the question yes if you saw them on the Vermont stop of the current tour promoting their forthcoming album Anything Goes (Warner Bros).

It took mere seconds after beginning to play their opener, a tune by Thelonius Monk, for Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy to generate the momentum of full-flight improvisation. The trio is tight: Grenadier’s runs are locked in with the pianist’s left hand while Rossy fills in all the spaces around and within those two instruments. The drummer actually almost stole the show with the way he alternated stick and brush, rhythmic patterns and even twirled sticks to use top and bottom for different sounds throughout a given number. That said, it’s not as if he alone commands your attention. Although the Mehldau trio hold to some jazz conventions, when one takes a solo turn, the other two don’t recede totally into the background: each quietly keeps feeding ideas to the comrade who has almost imperceptibly taken the foreground.

Brad Mehldau himself is a riveting figure on stage. He seems to slip into a trance as he plays, eyes closed, bent over the keyboard as if in deep meditation, as the music flow through his fingers. He plays beautifully, but his playing is never just pretty and likewise, his work is florid with detail, yet never just flowery. There is a deeply felt passion in all he plays and that’s exactly why this program of standards was so engrossing.

Standards are a staple of jazz because of the possibilities inherent in a truly great song and when Mehldau and his trio plays, they open up the melodic and rhythmic potential, not just of the tune itself, be it Harold Arlen, Cole Porter or Lennon/McCartney, but the possibilities of the music they create spontaneously from the song. For instance, when Mehldau and company closed with Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” they brought out the gospel roots of the composition by contrasting the lilt of the bridge with the body of the tune.

Such revelations are what make the new CD Anything Goes so listenable as well. Many of the same songs played live on this tour are on the disc and, in the studio as on the stage, Mehldau and his band create music from the material without ever giving short shrift to it. You can recognize a given song and, like the band itself, use the familiarity as a touchstone to move beyond it. The Mehldau trio makes music of these songs that stands on its own, on par with the material itself, no easy task and no small accomplishment.

The approach of the band on stage translates to the new recording as well. The authority with which the pianist plays is echoed in the rhythm section and the impeccable recording preserves both the bottom range of the sound as well as the expanse of the sound. Just as the configuration of the Brad Mehldau Trio onstage makes perfect sense—the bass in the center linking the drums and piano on either side—so does the stereo mix of Anything Goes balance the listener within the music as it plays.

Photo Credit
Jos Knaepen

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