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Brad Mehldau Trio: Seymour Reads The Constitution!

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Brad Mehldau has an adventurous and innovative side, one that he displays on Largo (Warner Brothers, 2002) and Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2010), albums that feature expansive and—with Largo—electronic inputs. But he always returns to the acoustic trio format that brought him to prominence. It began with a series of five Art Of The Trio albums on the Warner Brothers label released between 1997 and 2001, a project that led to a rise that hit its zenith with the near masterpiece, Anything Goes (Warner Brothers, 2004), followed up with a full masterpiece, Day Is Done (Nonesuch Records, 2005), one of the finest piano trio albums of the new millennium.

More trio records followed: Ode and Where Do You Start, both on Nonsuch Records in 2012; Blues and Ballads (Nonesuch, 2016). With Mehldau—as it has been with the trio work of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett—everything he does in the format has to be judged by comparison with his own oeuvre, a body of work that stands, consistently, above (with some exceptions; Evans and Jarrett, Marc Copland and Fred Hersch come to mind) the most skilled and inspired competition.

So where does the oddly-titled Seymour Reads The Constitution fit in? Near the top, bumping elbows with Anything Goes and Day Is Done. Mehldau is, of course, a virtuoso with deep classical leanings that he pulls over into the jazz realm, where he mixes it up with improvisational acumen and a trio dynamic—featuring bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard—that crackles with energy.

Mehldau employs something of a template on his trio outings—and this is a good thing. Some originals, a Great American Songbook tune or two, a visit to the jazz standards, and some inspired and perhaps seemingly unlikely contributions from the pop/rock world. Of the last of the mentioned categories, "Friends" from the Beach Boys songbook, that waltzes with an exceptional and vibrant elan, veering into near unrecognizability—first they're playing the tune; then they're sort of not playing the tune as they roll into something related but not quite the same—is in the best jazz tradition.

The Mehldau originals, "Spiral," the title tune and "Ten Tune" are as strong as anything the pianist has written—not walk-away-whistling-the-melody compositions, but rather accessibly cerebral sounds, that give way to Lerner and Lowe's familiar "Almost Like Being In Love," laid down here with an urgency, and maybe with a bit of chip on the shoulder. And Elmo Hope's "De-Dah" sounds as if it was written specifically for Mehldau, like it belongs in the twenty-first century instead of the middle of the twentieth.

The trio closes it out with saxophonist Sam Rivers' beautiful "Beatrice." It is the avant-garde-leaning Rivers' most engaging composition, and Mehldau and company treat it with respect, revealing in a vivacious fashion new facets of it loveliness.

Track Listing: Spiral; Seymour Reads the Constitution!; Almost Like Being in Love; De-Dah; Friends; Ten Tune; Great Day; Beatrice.

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

Title: Seymour Reads The Constitution! | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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