Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oasis, Coltrane, Soundgarden and Originals: Must be Brad Mehldau

Covering the waterfront doesn't quite capture what Brad Mehldau and his trios (and other iterations) have been doing for the last decade. This is a guy who can not only do the whole soft jazz trio thing and then jump to some serious bop tunes with a wall of notes, he can also move into a free jazz frenzy or play the blues. And of course, what a Mehldau group might be most known for is identifying modern pop tunes and moving them into the jazz genre in such a way that you feel like you are fortunate enough to be listening to that moment when a song gets wrenched from its origins to become known as a jazz standard rather than just a jazz cover of the latest rock or pop tune.  And what I think makes Mehldau different on this front is his ability to choose the right songs from the Beatles to Radiohead.
So it should have come as no surprise to me when I first heard Mehldau's latest effort with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard and the disc opened with a cover of "Wonderwall" by Oasis.  Well, cover doesn't really, er, cover it.  The guys take a great pop tune (regardless of what you think of those Gallagher brothers),  and turn it into an absolutely fun nine-minutes of swinging jazz, highlighted by Grenadier's wonderful funky bass line underneath Mehldau's great sense of melody and improvisation.
But that is really only the beginning of this fine two-disc compilation from their 2006 stint at the Village Vanguard in which they play everything from slow lovely standards such as Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" to rippin John Coltrane pieces such as "Coutndown" to a 23 minute version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" (which gets a bit too free jazzy for me, but just for a moment).  In addition, there are some great Mehldau originals here, the best being "Ruby's Rub" which really shows off the trio's range of abilities.
The playing, as always seems to be the case with a Mehldau trio is Keith Jarrett trio tight.  I have to say that I really like Jeff Ballard's work on this effort.  I am no expert on drummers (and would have to go back and listen more closely to Jorge Rossy on earlier trio albums to see how it compares), but something about Ballard's touch which seems quick and very responsive to Mehldau's keyboard work--almost as if they are in a conversation at times--really rounds out the trio on this album.
So here is the trick.  Since the shortest track on this outing is almost nine minutes (and I know that most folks aren't hanging around here that long), I am hard pressed to pick out one track to share.  I really want everyone to take a listen to "Wonderwall" and as I said "Ruby's Rub" is an excellent and representative piece--but you can hear samples of those along with "Blackhole Sun" over at the official site.  So here is O Que Sera by Doris Day Chico Buarque.  This no simple bossa nova tune, but rather more of a laid back samba feeling blues which slowly moves into a more up-tempo musical back and forth between these three talented players.  
Enjoy and use that buy the album link as this one gets a 95/100 from the TR.
O Que Sera (Buy Album)

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

You were the original person to turn me on to Mehldau and I am now a big fan. I will be buying this recording, probably giving it to the historian but loading it onto my own iPod after!

We got the chance to hear him live last year at the SLC Jazz series (now at the Sheraton, used to be the Hilton, same building, same ballroom). What a monumentally wonderful concert. He ended with a Sufjan Stevens cover. I'm sure you've also heard his cover of "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" on the Joni M. tribute album--brilliant. It's like you can hear the thinking in the playing, it's that intelligent--but also like his thoughts are gorgeous sounds. He's an amazing and original (I feel) musician.