Friday, 7 March 2014

Review: Brad Mehldau - Trio Live

Brad Mehldau made his name with his famed trio, largely with the excellent five-part ‘Art Of The Trio’ series, but since Jorge Rossy’s departure for other newer projects, Mehldau tended to experiment in other more diverse projects, taking in among other things solo work, a quartet with Pat Metheny and even a duo album with operatic soprano queen Renee Fleming, before eventually returning to perhaps his most ‘expected’ group format.

The somewhat basic named ‘Trio Live’ features newer stick man Jeff Ballard, now firmly and comfortably in the drummers seat having long since replaced Rossy, alongside longtime bassist Larry Grenadier, again playing and recording at New York’s historic Village Vanguard (numerous artists have recorded a famous and great album here, for Mehldau though, this is rather greedily his fourth). Again made up of two discs this, instead of presented a whole concert, cherry picks from the best of a six night residency during October of 2006.

Disc one is the more covers heavy half, and takes in a wide variety of sources, ranging from the move obvious classics such as Chico Buarque’s ‘O Que Sera’ and Ray Noble’s ‘The Very Thought Of You’, to the more contemporary; most notably Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’, and Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’.

‘Wonderwall’ itself is one of the most surprising pieces here, not in the choice of song selection, but in the way the trio decides to attack it. Taking the acoustic rock pub-singalong favourite, the three players here reimagine it as a soulful funky number, more in an acoustic jazz style take on some perhaps Lou Donaldson or Cannonball Adderley. Of course the melody is still there, and Mehldau draws every last possible opportunity he can out of it, all the while keeping it grooving along tightly.

Soundgardens classic anthem ‘Black Hole Sun’ too gets an intriguing and fun makeover here, and is in a way the centerpiece of the album. Epic and twisting, with a multipart structure, regardless of your familiarity with the original, it will leave you impressed, and maybe even just a little dazzled. Retaining the songs distinctive melody, here the trio in fact split it into a number of varied melodic ideas, which not only showcase the inventiveness of the trio as a unit, but also makes the piece much shorter than it’s near 25-minute running time.

Mehldau’s own ‘Ruby’s Rub’ by comparison is classic swing, while ‘O Que Sera’ takes in the obvious samba and twists and turns it into a half dozen other things. The always popular ballad ‘The Very Thought Of You’ then ends the first disc in an almost Mehldau-by-numbers way - gentle rhythms, lithe and subtle lead piano lines – yet still it remains a great piece of music, and a very good closer.

Disc two focuses more on Mehldau the composer than the first disc, kicking off with the densely rhythmic ‘Buddha Realm’ that also packs one of his more intense melodies and some of Ballard’s more pulsating, driving work. If ever an example was needed of a contemporary piano trio as a highly interactive group, and not just a soloist playing over a strolling backing, then this is it.

‘Fit Cat’, Secret Beach’ and Jimmy Heath’s ‘C.T.A.’ all keep the creative juices flowing, but with the latter opting for a more distinctly yet spirited bop approach. John Coltrane’s classic ‘Count Down’ ends the gig, but makes sure there is no sign of let up, possessing possibly one of Mehldau’s most energetic and spirited opening salvos, and helps end the whole recording on a bright and uplifting high.

Trio Live is a very rewarding album (live or otherwise) with something for everyone; be they already existing fans of Mehldau or new to the pianist and his trio. Certainly for any jazz fan this comes highly recommended, for while it may not be Brad Mehldau’s very best work, it does contain some of the groups most interesting and inventive playing, and overall is just a complete and winning package.


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