Brad Says Relax

The Brad Mehldau Trio. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, January

Any doubts that a piano trio could fill the Lobero with an
abundance of music were quickly dispelled on Friday as Brad Mehldau
kicked into his first number, “Granada,” a song from the trio’s new
album Day Is Done (Nonesuch). It’s a ballad that begins swinging
gently and builds to a heated series of Latin-tinged crescendos.
Mehldau’s renowned technique involves sideways entrances to the
theme, song-like middle register runs, and a left hand full of
quirky independent melodies and offbeat, unexpected accents. In the
current version of his trio, Mehldau is joined by two fabulous
collaborators, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.
The result is so cohesive and rhythmically focused that the trio
might as well be a single instrument with three people playing it
at once.

Ballard’s drumming took the spotlight in the second number, an
untitled original that conjured the blues, waltz time, and the
piano trio work of the great Duke Ellington. Much is made of
Mehldau’s propensity to reinvent pop and rock, and the evening had
its share of such covers, including “Day Is Done” by hip deceased
British singer-songwriter Nick Drake and a thoroughly mesmerizing
encore of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” from Sgt. Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Mehldau’s arrangement of the Beatles song was the evening’s
highlight, and it demonstrates what makes the Mehldau Trio’s music
so appealing. First, Mehldau is not afraid to make music that is
relaxing. Like Miles Davis on the iconic Kind of Blue, Mehldau
embraces the fact that jazz properly played does more than just get
under the skin — it drops down the spine to loosen the lower back.
Next, Mehldau knows his post-Coltrane harmonics. These became
particularly prominent as he pushed the middle eight section of
“She’s Leaving Home” off into the modal stratosphere.

Maybe it’s his relatively young age (35) or the eclectic New
York scene he came up through, but Mehldau is playing post-Borders
music, mixing the best of the jazz section with the best of the
rock, creating a dream space in which Sgt. Pepper’s can get mashed
up with A Love Supreme. It’s a brave, idiosyncratic vision of
contemporary music, and, in person or on record, it feels like


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