The alacrity with which tickets for this show flew out of the Howard Assembly Room door is but one small indicator of just how big the name of Brad Mehldau has become in the world of contemporary jazz. The highly revered American pianist was last here four years ago when collaborating on keyboards and synths with drummer/percussionist Mark Guiliana. Tonight in yet another sold out show Mehldau is back on much more familiar territory with his trio, a format which has been his most long-running and consistent musical vehicle since he first burst onto the jazz scene in the early 1990s.
Back with his regular trio (Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums), Brad Mehldau confirms his magnificent sense of adventure and restless quest for sonic evolution by completely sidestepping material from their most recent recording – Blues and Ballads, released in June of last year – choosing instead to concentrate almost entirely on a series of new compositions.
A couple of numbers in and addressing the enrapt audience for the first time this evening, Mehldau describes these as yet untitled pieces rather prosaically as “a blues of sorts… and one that Jeff initially brought the rhythm for”. His introduction of the ensuing “waltz” is equally understated, revealing far more about the man and his immense modesty than the compositions themselves.
Each and every one of these pieces is doused in the purest musicality and riven through with the most dynamic mesmerism you are likely to hear this side of Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans and Horace Silver. In its quiet and restrained intricacy, delicate use of space and ever so cool melodies this is a sound that extends its appeal far beyond that of a more traditional jazz audience.
‘The Green Deva’ and ‘Strange Gift’ continue this masterclass in exquisite, engrossing modern piano trio jazz playing. It is subtle, contemplative, highly inventive and nothing if not discreet, showcasing individual and collective musical creativity and dexterity of what is undoubtedly the highest order. Tonight the Brad Mehldau Trio provide us with a beautiful reminder of just how clear and powerful musical expression can be.
Photo credit: Michael Wilson