Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 Warner Bros. 2A48005-B July 2001 Brad Mehldau interrupted his ongoing Art of the Trio series with last yearís anomalous Places. Now the series resumes with Progression, a live double-disc package containing 136 minutes of music. Like Mehldauís previous live records, this one features a great deal of stretching out. Loosely speaking, disc one focuses on standards, including uptempo versions of "The More I See You" and "Alone Together." The latter, played in seven (with a stunning solo piano intro), segues directly into a brief "It Might As Well Be Spring," also played in seven, as it was on Mehldauís very first record. Disc two is evenly split between standards and originals. Of particular interest is "Secret Love," done as a ballad, and "Resignation," which Mehldau first performed solo on 1999ís Elegaic Cycle. All of Mehldauís telltale signatures are here: altered root motion and meter on standard tunes; extended, ethereal vamps; flowing, virtuosic intros and cadenzas; blindingly fast tempos juxtaposed with ballads so slow that they seem to hover. With the reliable help of Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy, Mehldau brings his art to ever more musical places. Without a doubt, his trio remains one of the most identifiable groups in jazz, and Progression is one of its most substantial documents to date. ~David R. Adler Disc One 1. The More I See You 2. Dreamís Monk 3. The Folks Who Live on the Hill 4. Alone Together 5. It Might As Well Be Spring 6. Cry Me a River 7. River Man Disc Two 1. Quit 2. Secret Love 3. Sublation 4. Resignation 5. Long Ago and Far Away 6. How Long Has This Been Going On? Brad Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jorge Rossy, drums Brad Mehldau, Elegiac Cycle and Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (CD, 56:47 and 75:51); Warner Bros. 47357-2 and 47463-2, 1999 Warner Bros. Records 75 Rockefeller Plaza, 20th Floor New York, NY 10019 Phone: 212-275-4500 Cyberhome: www.wbjazz.com Some jazz musicians warn against excessive talk and analysis, insisting that the music be allowed to speak for itself. Brad Mehldau does not belong to this school of thought. Reading his self-authored, exhaustive (exhausting?) liner notes to both these albums, a critic might be tempted to throw up his hands and conclude that nothing more can possibly be said. These mini-essays constitute some of the heaviest music criticism you're likely to read anywhere. But count on Mehldau to put his money where his mouth is, for the music on these discs is also some of the heaviest you'll ever hear. Elegiac Cycle is all solo piano, while Back at the Vanguard is a live trio recording-volume four of Mehldau's celebrated Art of the Trio series. On Elegiac Cycle, one can readily imagine how the trio would sound backing him on the knotty 7/8 "Resignation" or the thundering "Memory's Tricks." Conversely, on "Lament for Linus"-the only previously recorded composition-we get to hear the tune laid bare, without the band accompaniment familiar from volume one of the trio series. It's like examining Mehldau's compositional prowess under a microscope. The beautiful "Bard" opens and closes the record in picture-frame fashion, and "Goodbye Storyteller" steals the show, its grandeur greatly enhanced by Mehldau's explication in the liner notes. The new trio release is every bit the aesthetic onslaught we've come to expect from Mehldau and his cohorts Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums. They play "All the Things You Are" in a quick seven, and somehow the done-to-death standard is reborn. "Sehnsucht," which closed Mehldau's previous trio recording, here is given a relatively laid-back treatment. And Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," which also appeared on the previous CD, is stretched to twice the original length and brought to a much more intense boil. Four consecutive tracks, "Nice Pass," "Solar," "London Blues," and "I'll Be Seeing You," display Mehldau's fertile, varied approach to straightahead jazz forms. "Nice Pass" is rhythm changes stretched to epic proportions, interspersed with tightly arranged cues and feel changes. "London Blues," a tune from Mehldau's first album, is accelerated and given a blistering rundown. It's a visionary take on the blues and probably the best track on the record. "I'll Be Seeing You" could not be simpler, and in that sense it's the flip side of "Nice Pass," with its hall-of-mirrors construction. With this no-frills rendition of a beautiful old standard, Mehldau puts in a word for transparent melodicism, establishing its validity alongside the staggering complexity found elsewhere. Mehldau made a similar gesture by including "Moon River" on his previous live record. Miles Davis's "Solar" is taken at a burning tempo and stretched to its harmonic limits. Oddly enough, however, the out melody is played completely straight and the track ends on a stark, plain-and-simple downbeat. Mehldau often ends his songs and even his solos in this way: abruptly and with a simplicity that seems humorously at odds with the tumultuous waters he stirred up only moments before. Perhaps this is part of what Mehldau has in mind when he writes: "So much of Western art has self-consciously striven to appear artless; jazz has the unique distinction of artlessly becoming artful." ~David R. Adler
Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden, Another Shade of Blue (CD, 67:51); Blue Note 98222 Blue Note Records 304 Park Avenue South, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10010 Phone: 212-253-3000 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyberhome: www.bluenote.com Put these three highly individualized players in a room together and the music will take to glorious flight. It's that simple. This drumless trio thrilled us back in 1997 with Alone Together, and they're back to thrill us again. No surprises in the format department: once again, the saxophonist, pianist, and bassist ruminate at length on a set of often-played standards. In lesser hands the conventional repertoire and subdued vibe could induce yawns. But combine Konitz's alto hues with Mehldau's harmonic thickets and Haden's unerring pocket, and you're on the edge of your seat through seventeen-plus minutes of "Body and Soul." Konitz and Mehldau vary the sonic palette by playing "Everything Happens to Me" as a sax/piano duo, with Haden laying out. Konitz solos and "That Old Black Magic" floats by for a second, evaporating as soon as it appears. Mehldau begins his dissection of "What's New" with a detour into "Young and Foolish," and Haden sticks to him like glue. Consistently, the young pianist provides Konitz with chordal roadmaps that verge on telepathic. Haden solos tenderly on "Body and Soul," on the slow-blues opener "Another Shade of Blue," and on "All of Us," an apt closer based on "All of Me" changes. This trio represents three generations, and each player in his own way has made bold strokes without abandoning the tradition. Konitz, elder statesman and traditionalist, fit right in with not-so-traditional trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler on his 1997 ECM release, Angel Song. (That album, incidentally, also featured a drumless ensemble.) Haden helped birth the avant-garde with Ornette Coleman and yet can play the hell out of the mainstream with pianist Kenny Barron. And Mehldau, with his own extraordinary trio, has made a mark by stretching conventional forms to their breaking point, with increasingly explosive results. Another Shade of Blue, like its predecessor, is an important historical document, showing how three musicians spanning the latter half of jazz's century have chosen to interpret their inheritance, never once losing sight of what really matters: making beautiful music. ~David R. Adler
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