Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018
Personnel - Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: acoustic bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.
Brad Mehldau, one of the most influential pianists of our times, is all imagination and sophistication when it comes to composition and execution. After assembling readings of preludes by Bach and his own originals on the solo work After Bach (Nonesuch, 2018), he returns to the trio format, accompanied by longtime associates Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on bass and drums, respectively.
The new album, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, got its title from a weird dream with the actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, two weeks before his death. In addition to three originals, the album features renditions of meaningful post-bop pieces, pop songs, and a jazz standard.
Two originals are at the top of the song lineup. Whereas the odd-metered “Spiral” relies on a dazzling rhythm, a beautifully poignant melody reminiscent of Jobim, and a consistent post-bop stream of elegant sequential voicings, the title track is a classical-tinged waltz propelled by Ballard’s distinctive brushwork and stamped with refined piano phrases gently pronounced in unison with the bass. Mehldau compellingly flies in his solo, subtly pervading passage notes with warmth and richness, while Grenadier’s exploration becomes a source of inspiration such is the expressiveness revealed.
Swinging with gusto, the trio shapes “Like Someone in Love” with a different tempo and artistic refinement. Liveliness and elasticity conduct the drummer to enthusiastically trade bars with his bandmates. He repeats the procedure on Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, where notes are tossed with zest and lush chord changes take place on top of Grenadier’s dancing patterns. He even quotes “Acknowledgement” by Coltrane at some point.
Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah” is tackled with a cool touch and flows at a moderate pace with bebop stimulus. One finds the pianist in evidence again with improvised lines that go around the melody, deepened by cracking motifs in a fluent conversational tone. The melodicism mirrors his purest musical sensitivity. Following the bandleader’s example, bassist and drummer, besides utterly supportive of each other in guaranteeing a classy foundation, also explore swirls of emotion through the appeal of spontaneity.
Mehldau has a knack for giving pop songs a unique emotional touch. For this album, the chosen ones were Beach Boys’ “Friends” and Paul McCartney’s “Great Day”. The former was transformed into an amiable jazz waltz (the original version also obeys a 3/4 time signature) with an inventive final section while the latter feels like a lively percussive triumph with a bluesy feel. Placed in the middle of these compositions, “Ten Tune” falls in the third stream genre and comes cleverly arranged with melodic counterpoint.
Mehldau Trio demonstrates a firm grasp across styles, engulfing the listeners in their glistening, warm-hearted storytelling and transporting them into another realm. This is among the most enchanting offerings of his career.
01 - Spiral ► 04 - De-Dah ► 05 - Friends