Detractors of pianist Brad Mehldau say his notoriety is merely a case of arriving at the right the time, of simply being the most visible Bill Evans disciple to come along in thirty-five years. They sometimes add that despite Evans' obvious influence, Mehldau's style owes more to his own European classical background than the late genius's brand of tear-stained Tin Pan Alley melancholia.
Not that Mehldau doesn't have an ear for a good, sad pop tune. Since his galvanizing days in Joshua Redman's quartet, Mehldau has, thankfully, ventured outside the well-swum pool of tired standards to draw from the pens of such rock-era staples as Paul Simon and The Beatles. Shelving his favored trio setting for the solo Live in Tokyo
, recorded in February of 2003, Mehldau taps such unexpected sources as alt-rock faves Radiohead ("Paranoid Android") and doomed English folksinger Nick Drake ("Things Behind the Sun" makes its first appearance here, while "River Man" was previously explored on 2001's Art of the Trio, Vol. 5: Progression
But for all the Bill Evans comparisons, Mehldau's tack is actually much closer to that of the last big Evans emulator, Keith Jarrett. Indeed, the open-ended, European avant-garde-informed mood that permeates Live in Tokyo
is much closer in spirit to The Koln Concerts
than Sunday at the Village Vanguard
While Mehldau has previously tackled "Monk's Dream" for 1998's Art of the Trio, Vol. 2: Live at the Village Vanguard
, one can't help but see its inclusion here as a nod to Monk's legendary Tokyo concerts of 1963. And this version, bereft of the supportive swinging of the Vanguard team of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy, finds Mehldau applying the stream-of-consciousness approach he takes for much of the album; clowning around, he even throws in some of Vince Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Theme," though it's impossible to tell if the typically reserved Japanese audience picks up on it.
There are also, nevertheless, a few evergreens here: Cole Porter's "From This Moment On," the Gershwins' "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." And while "Paranoid Android" is the program's centerpiece due to its nearly 20-minute length, "Someone to Watch Over Me" is the breathtaking showstopper. Yes, naysayers may contend that Mehldau's brainy, plinky-dink technique merely hints at the essence of Bill Evans' trademark deep pathos. But on "Someone to Watch Over Me" he comes jaw-droppingly close, taking the forlorn paean to an unmet lover to new heights of bittersweet majesty. Quietly sparkling like the sunset on a still pond, it is an unbearably moving piece. And, after the tears have been wiped away, Brad Mehldau's most striking achievement so far.
1- Things Behind the Sun (Drake) / 2- Intro (Mehldau) / 3- Someone to Watch Over Me (Gershwin/Gershwin) / 4- From This Moment On (Porter) / 5- Monk's Dream (Monk) / 6- Paranoid Android (Yorke/O'Brein/Greenwood/Greenwood/Selway) / 7- How Long Has This Been Going On? (Gershwin/Gershwin) / 8- River Man (Drake).
Brad Mehldau - piano.