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March 12, 2013 5:43 pm
Brad Mehldau’s recent projects range from solo piano recitals to orchestral showcases, but it is a series of intimate, genre-blending duets that have proved to be the most intriguing. These include opera with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, bluegrass with mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile and chamber music with fellow pianist Kevin Hays – the two Americans’ jazz/classical duet briefly toured the UK only last month. In each setting, Mehldau has shown an extraordinary sensitivity to his collaborator’s oeuvre without over-imposing his will or losing his identity.
This gig, billed as Mehliana, took on dance music in an equal-partners duet with the similarly jazz-rooted and open-minded drummer/programmer Mark Guiliana. Mehldau’s spidery lines and winsome melodies were delivered by keyboards and synths, snaking through the distant echoes of dub, electro and buzzsaw funk, much of it his own making.
He opened with fragments of sound, some floaty chords and a whining synthesised line, Guiliana’s light-touch, speed-rock cymbals firmed up the pulse, and the dance aesthetic was set. Guiliana tunes his drums loud and low, and was soon punctuating the metronomic orthodoxy with push-and-pull beats that resonated with the power of a street-marching samba band.
Mehldau and Guiliana eschew pre-set composition, taking as their inspiration a history of recent dance music. There were the mumbling beeps, echoes and wide-open spaces of deepest dub, and speedy extremes of drum’n’bass; baroque harmonies swirling over simple beats and the waspish buzz of 1970s funk. But on each piece an idiom was transformed. Both musicians have developed rhythmic independence to the full, and juxtapose fast eddies with laid-back swirls and crashing crescendos with gently rippling loops. There were few clues to structure or key, and the pulse, though strong, came without a meter, so accents rained down in unexpected places.
Mehldau’s musical personality remained undimmed. The classical cadences and snippets of tune, multi-layered textures and sense of unfolding narrative were as imperious as ever, and with Guiliana he created a series of unfolding, rhythmically compelling vignettes. The all-standing capacity audience was enthralled, and when Guiliana finally whacked out a backbeat, people gently bounced at the front. And just when the encore seemed to run out of steam, a slinky groove signalled a surprising, stretched-to-the-limit take on “My Favourite Things”.
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