Brad Mehldau launched his first jazz piano trio in 1994, aged 24. Intimate, rhythmically accessible and with a repertoire including Radiohead and The Beatles, his rejig of a classic format made an immediate impact. The traditional emphasis on bravura technique and group dynamics shifted to a focus on subtleties of touch and where-my-fancy-takes-me musings. It was a successful formula followed by others but, as confirmed by this gig, Mehldau remains the brand leader, albeit a slightly diffident one.
Mehldau creates gently undulating soundscapes of gradually gathering intensity. Starting with the simplest of motifs, he develops an intricate tapestry of melodic details, chordal voicings and dense cross-rhythms. The opening original “Dream Sketch” set the pattern. Three notes and a twiddle in the lower register launched a stream of minute variations, rich in chromatic movement. Minor-key ruminations followed and there was a final torrent of notes. But Mehldau makes appreciation easy, continually flagging up the basic motif, with the underlying sequence reinforced by Larry Grenadier’s bass counterpoint and Jeff Ballard’s drum patterns.
Two more originals were also slowly evolving cycles – “Twiggy”, an odd cross between a skirl and a boogie, and an untitled blues that gradually developed a boppish swing. “Samba do Amor” hovered in a minor key, drums featured on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and there was a sensual, largely solo reading of The Sound of Music’s “Something Good”.
At times, Mehldau was so low-key I started to notice the pingy amplification, but then he would make an imaginative leap and grab your attention. The concluding pop cover, by Sufjan Stephens, was called “Holland”. I went with two Dutch friends and, to my embarrassment, it was the flattest song of the evening. Even so, Mehldau worked up enough zippy detail to win a deserved encore, Thelonious Monk’s “Gallop’s Gallop”. Impressively, he got Monk’s essence without sounding anything like him.
On tour in Europe until November 9
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