Brad Mehldau, solo piano – Live in Marciac – DVD (16:9, PCM stereo) + 2 CDs [TrackList below] Nonesuch 520275-2:
Brad Mehldau – Highway Rider – 2 CDs [TrackList below] Nonesuch 518655-2:
(Live album – Brad Mehldau, solo piano; Highway: Brad Mehldau; Jeff Ballard, drums; Matt Chamberlain, drums; Larry Grenadier, bass; Joshua Redman, tenor sax; orchestra cond. by Dan Coleman on some tracks)
Brad Mehldau is a unique American jazz pianist who has his own trio as well as performing with many renowned artists such as Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman, Michael Brecker, Jimmy Cobb, and also classical vocalists Renée Fleming and Anne Sofie von Otter. He studied with Fred Hersch, Junior Mance and Kenny Werner, and his classical training shows thru, and not just as accompanist to the classical singers. He is also a big fan of Brazilian music. Mehldau records mostly for the Nonesuch label, and is married to a Dutch jazz vocalist.
Mehldau plays not only his many original compositions and jazz standards but also special jazz arrangements of pop music, such as The Beatles, Radiohead, Nick Drake and Paul Simon. The three-disc Marciac album – from a French jazz festival in 2006 – includes his solo piano versions from the first three of those pop figures, in addition to one from Kurt Cobain. Also heard are five Mehldau originals. The 16:9 DVD has ten tracks, while the first CD has eight and the second six. However, due to three medleys in the video performance, it covers all the same tunes except for Bobby Timmon’s “Dat Dere” – heard only on the second CD.
The unique creative mind of Mehldau avoids the usual jazz piano cliches and often relies on extremely quiet and subtle note-spinning. It is different from the subtleties of, say, Bill Evans, which if one is not listening closely could be mistaken for quiet cocktail-lounge improvisation. One of his unusual techniques is playing an ostinato figure in this right hand while working with a motive/melodic idea in his left. A characteristic of this particular live concert is a concentration on the center of the keyboard – often with very few forays into the deep bass or high treble. Mehldau is clearly not an all-over-the-keyboard jazz pianist. I was especially taken his glorious transformation of the Beatles’ “Martha My Dear.” A special option of the Marciac DVD is on Track 4 for the tune “Resignation.” If you press the Enter button on your remote you get Transcription On on the screen, which allows you to view the progression of the sheet music for this track while Mehldau plays it.
The earlier Highway Rider album also features two CDs but no DVD. It encored his earlier album done with producer Jon Brion, Largo, and features many tracks from a chamber orchestra using Mehldau’s own orchestrations. He reports he was influenced by the arrangers for both Jacques Brel and Tom Waits. He said his major challenge with the album was creating the orchestration – deciding which notes to assign to what instruments. He studied many classical orchestral scores, and there are some scaled-down big romantic passages in some of these pieces.
The complete performer list appears with each of the 15 track titles. Some feature just the trio, and some just the orchestra alone. A number of them are like mini jazz-flavored piano concertos – making this to my mind an equal to my favorite jazz solo-plus-orchestra album, Stan Getz’ Focus. There are also some fine solos by saxist Joshua Redman – some with the trio and others with the orchestra. The 15 tunes are built around the idea of someone leaving on a long road trip by themselves, and their feelings and ideas while traveling. Mehldau wrote a short story titled “Highway Rider,” and it appears on his web site as an interactive feature at bradmehldau.com In it he prints in red type the particular phrases tying in with the 15 tunes – they are not necessarily the exact titles; sometimes the titles are shorter or simpler. Reading this gives a background and foundation for listening to the various tracks. Since it is not a long story, I don’t understand why it wasn’t reprinted in the album’s note booklet.
Live In Marciac – TrackList:
01. Storm (Mehldau)
02. It’s All Right with Me (Cole Porter)
03. Secret Love (Fain/Webster)
04. Unrequited (Mehldau)
05. Resignation (Mehldau)
06. Trailer Park Ghost (Mehldau)
07. Goodbye Storyteller (for Fred Myrow) (Mehldau)
08. Exit Music (for a Film) (Radiohead)
09. Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
10. Lithium (Kurt Cobain)
11. Lilac Wine (James Alan Shelton)
12. Martha My Dear (Lennon/McCartney)
13. My Favorite Things (Rodgers/Hammerstein)
14. Dat Dere (Bobby Timmons) (CD only)
Highway Rider – TrackList:
1.01 John Boy 3:11
1.03 At the Tollbooth 1:06
1.04 Highway Rider 7:42
1.05 The Falcon Will Fly Again 8:17
1.06 Now You Must Climb Alone 4:06
1.07 Walking the Peak 8:00
2.01 We’ll Cross the River Together 12:23
2.02 Capriccio 5:16
2.03 Sky Turning Grey (For Elliott Smith) 6:20
2.04 Into the City 7:34
2.05 Old West 8:24
2.06 Come with Me 6:15
2.07 Always Departing 6:21
2.08 Always Returning 9:52
— John Henry
MOMPOU: Música callada – Stephen Hough, piano – Hyperion
A Virtuosic Quietude in Hough’s rendering of Mompou “Música Callada”