This is one of two new Nonesuch CDs released by the highly-regarded jazz pianist; the other being a collaboration with classical soprano Renée Fleming. This jazz trio disc was originally supposed to be on Warner Bros. jazz but that division of Warners was closed before it could be released (just as they next scuttled the entire classical division!). All nine tracks are Mehldau originals which he wrote for his trio between 2000 and 2002, and he has a new drummer joining bassist Grenadier and himself, who have played together for a decade now.
The pieces are all in the tried-and-true jazz tradition of theme and variations form, but a good deal more is going on. The 32-page note booklet is entirely by Mehldau himself and sports a number of musical illustrations. In fact it is written like some quite analytical and musicological notes for a classical album. Several pages are spent on the contrast in handling melody and harmony between Bach and Brahms, for example. I read all of them and was much impressed by the pianist/composer’s short course in jazz improvisation and composition. Some of it began to soar over my head (as it did when I briefly studied jazz piano myself with the pianist of The MasterSounds), while other points stuck. Such as, “How much should the improviser address the tune?” In the notes Mehldau discusses some of his thoughts which shaped the music the trio created. He also reveals the influence of Thelonious Monk as well as Western classical music.
I really got into the variety of treatments of the theme of Boomer, with its almost continuous ostinato figure tying everything together. None of the pieces are strong in the catchy melody department, but after reading Mehldau’s notes I found myself listening more in depth to the statements of the themes and the variations that followed. I think it will affect the way I listen to all jazz improvisations from now on.
Tracks: August Ending, House on Hill, Bealtine, Boomer, Backyard, Fear and Trembling, Embers, Happy Tune, Waiting for Eden.
— John Henry