Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Mercurial Brad Mehldau

Known for his irrepressible, mercurial artistic sensibilities, as much as he is for his willingness to accommodate material from beyond the traditional boundaries of straightforward piano jazz, Brad Mehldau is well and truly one of the most singular talents working in the contemporary jazz scene. Armed with a set of highly impressive, consistently proficient piano chops, Mehldau has explored everything from cerebral Bill Evans-influenced trio workouts and studied neo-classicist tonalities, to off-kilter, leftfield rock freak-outs and experimental, avant-garde modalisms.

A particular highlight in Mehldau's long oeuvre is his astonishing album from 2002, the brilliantly restless "Largo", which displays Mehldau's penchant for unusual harmonic constructions, mutated modal chords and contradictory instrumental figurations.

And he pulls it all off with such aplomb too, employing bucketloads of studied dissonance and lyrical improvisations in diverse tracks like the cinematic, spatial "When It Rains", the feeedback-drenched, almost Hendrixian "Sabbath", the frenetic Carnatic-informed "Alvarado", and the turbulent "Dropjes", an adventure in contrapuntal inflections, complete with modulated guitar synths, sampled electronics and a great, tension-filled rhythm section.

A reading of Radiohead's existentialist epic "Paranoid Android" makes use of that reliable John Cage trick of placing dampers between the piano hammers for the effect of mildly warped-sounding chords, while the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" is given a surprisingly straightahead reading on basic, Bill Evans-style piano trio of acoustic bass, drums and piano, arguably the most conventional-sounding recital here. There is even an incongruous, almost freeform pairing of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa-nova classic "Wave" and the Beatles' whimsical "Mother Nature's Son", which has Mehldau ably displaying his vibraphone-playing mettle, anchored by an ambient electronic drone.

"Largo", simply put, constitutes a new benchmark for experimental jazz, not only with its technical assurance, but more importantly, with its inherent sense of adventure. Long may Mehldau roam.


Post a Comment

<< Home