by Michael Bowen
It's a jazz trio, but it is Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau on the piano? Jarrett's the one who hums as he plays, sticking closely to the melody on standards, making room for bass and drum solos, then concluding with a bright-spirited finish. Mehldau, more restrained, encourages tighter teamwork among himself, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy, with less time for solo flashes. He often starts ballads very slowly, gradually building tempo before the elegiac endings that he favors.
Mehldau is sometimes accused of being too cerebral. But deconstruction isn't necessarily destructive; done right, it can be creative. In jazz terms, opening up fissures in a melody can help clear out new spaces for improvisation.
With "Anything Goes," for example, Mehldau enters Cole Porter's world in a disjointed way, with a staccato attack and everything fragmented, until suddenly the sustained notes of the chorus emerge, recognizable.
Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" is taken slowly, like something out of a hymnal, then builds nicely to an uptempo that seems to have no relation to the melody, finally reverting to its folksy amble.
In Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Mehldau reverses roles and keeps time as Grenadier haltingly plucks out the melody, with the notes so widely spaced that both players can insert little essays of improvisation among them.
Once again Mehldau covers Radiohead, this time with "Everything in Its Right Place." A haunting piano line repeats discordantly, as if spinning out of control. Everything seems out of place until Mehldau weaves a fluttering figure that grounds Rossy's pyrotechnics before a brooding finish.
Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Thelonious Monk and even Lerner and Loewe make appearances in this collection of standards and covers from an October 2002 recording session that will soon also generate an album of original tunes.
The line may go from George Gershwin through Bill Evans and on through Jarrett -- but after 10 CDs, it's certainly flourishing now in Brad Mehldau. While his threesome is presently touring France and Italy, they'll appear at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle on April 8-11. Every performance, reconstructed from melodies old and new, will bring elegiac surprises.
Publication date: 03/11/04