Brad Mehldau continues to refine the art of the jazz trio and in doing so is establishing a cohesiveness and a personal language and sound with his working group that has become as identifiable as other great trios like Keith Jarrett's, or like the late, great Bill Evans sustained during his career.
Whether one believes his trio stands among the ranks of masters like Jarrett, Evans or Hank Jones is a matter of personal taste. But music isn't about ranking. The music made by Mehldau and his mates bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy is wonderful jazz: cerebral, creative, touching and exploratory. For 11 albums, since 1995's Introducing Brad Mehldau
, through five volumes subtitled "Art of the Trio" up to Anything Goes
, released early this year, these three musicians have been together and it shows. (Only the very recent Live in Tokyo
, and '99's Elegiac Cycle
, solo Mehldau offerings both, don't include Grenadier and Rossy). Keeping a band together isn't easy, but it's the best way to establish a personal style, with musical versions of family stories and inside jokes. This group has done that.
At Albany, NY's extraordinary venue The Egg on Oct. 28, the art of this trio was displayed with style and elegance one has come to expect. The pianist continues to explore the standard repertoire, as well as develop his own music. Both are done superbly. Mehldau still shows the influences of Jarrett and Evans, yet his exploring, meandering right hand, and distinctive left that plays both counterpoint and support, is recognizable as his own more and more over time. It's exquisite.
The Burt Bacharach theme to the movie "Alfie" started things off. Mehldau's soft single notes purposely lagged behind the beat, as he so often does. He was almost agonizingly behind the rhythm held steadfast by Rossy and Grenadier, but it hung in just enough to be a good effect. The group moved to a stately Spanish-tinged theme that turned out to be "Grenada," by saxophonist Chris Cheek, showing a willingness to break from the standard mold.
Mehldau also presented three new original compositions, all of them yet untitled. One was a mid-tempo melodic piece, one a jazz waltz and the last a ballad, not particularly compelling, but perhaps could be when the group has worked it out more. Engaging was the next tune, which started with a Grenadier bas solo and then soared off into all manner of things. The pianist created sweet and subtle melodic riffs, and the group also soared off and burned it up at times. It was quite a while before it became recognizable as Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave You Lover," but it was a great journey, including an unaccompanied solo by Mehldau in which he toyed with melody and harmony that was one of the night's highlights.
A Soft version of "More Than You Know" showed the group's soft side, as did the standard, and Mehldau staple, "How Long Has This Been Going On." "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" found Mehldau in a strong improvisational groove, allowing the melody to be heard while still playfully tweaking its elements. His phrasing is Jarrett-like in the way he will wander through the changes with his single-note runs, but his accent is different, his voice is his own. Mehldau doesn't burn fluidly through a song like Jones or Tommy Flanagan. He doesn't swing in that way. His coloring is different, more idiosyncratic in approach. His left hand darts in and out more and adds a different type of flavor. He's searching, but not to the point of distraction. He takes you on the ride and it's always interesting along the way.
The trio continues to build a strong body of work and a strong voice. Both are needed and kudos to its leader for the accomplishment.
Visit Brad Mehldau on the web.