Sunday, July 11, 2004

I like Brad Mehldau...

Carl Sundberg
Pulse Columnist
March 4, 2004

When an art form begins to mimic itself and replicate patterns, it is a sure sign that the form is on its way out. To continue to exist, it must expand, grow and branch out. It must evolve. This is especially true for music, and even more so for jazz.

One clever way to show the evolution of jazz is by taking songs written in the past and rehashing them, putting them into a new context, to show that growth is taking place.

Pianist Brad Mehldau is doing just that on his latest album, "Anything Goes."

The ten tracks on "Anything Goes" are all covers, ranging from Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk songs to those of Paul Simon and Radiohead. The title of the album comes from the Cole Porter song, describing the sound and feel of the whole album, with its broad range of songs, perfectly.

Credit must also be given to Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, who round out the trio on the album. These three musicians are truly talented and help each other with subtle and almost awkward engagements. Their interplay is like a catch-up conversation between a group of longtime friends -- very cheerful but also relaxed. There is no need to really impress each other, but the time spent is obviously joyous.

The opening track, "Get Happy," is just under ten minutes long and holds your attention every minute with its bizarre timing and polyrhythms bouncing and rolling in and out of each other. Here is where Rossy really flashes his skills behind the drums, performing tricks and stunts that are quite spectacular. There is also the feeling of comical delight behind the notes, like Mehldau is laughing through his piano.

Another track that has this joyous, almost comical feel to it is the rare Thelonious Monk track, "Skippy." The trio moves up and down the rather traditional sounding jazz piece with a modern sophistication that harkens to the future of the genre, saying "See, it is still alive!"

The ballad "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face," from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's classic "My Fair Lady," is more heartbreaking and beautiful than the original ever was. The gentle cascading of Mehldau's phrasing gives the song a heightened emotional tug that must be heard to be understood.

As for the renditions of the pop/rock songs by Paul Simon and Radiohead, Mehldau and his trio interpret them with class, intelligence and honest appreciation. These tracks don't leave you feeling cheated, like you had just heard them in the background of a supermarket. What you realize is that music should be interpreted. Just as a music review tries to interpret sound with words, Mehldau's interpretations are an attempt at description and maybe even homage to musicians he respects.

In fact, the standout track on the album is Mehldau's interpretation of "Everything In Its Right Place," by Radiohead. The song opens with Grenadier's solo bassline that creates the outline for the song. It is modal in nature, solid and straightforward, but creates a tension that is released once the piano and drums come in about a minute into the bass solo. The melody is played chillingly on the upper keys of Mehldau's piano, while Grenadier's bass notes bridge the various gaps that give the song a heavy, dark feel to it. It is fascinating to hear a song you know the words to played in such a meditative fashion. After hearing this song, it seems as if it was supposed to be played by a piano trio, not a five piece rock band.

All that said, the Brad Mehldau Trio's "Anything Goes" is a great piece of art that proves that jazz is not repeating itself, but redefining and branching out, moving ahead into the future.


Post a Comment

<< Home