[JPL] Music Review | 'Brad Mehldau Trio'

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 16 18:34:33 EDT 2006

October 12, 2006
Music Review | 'Brad Mehldau Trio'
A Revised Trio Marches Along a Road to Its Own
Distinctive Identity 
Four months ago Nonesuch Records issued an entrancing
album, “House on Hill,” that could be described as a
posthumous release by the original Brad Mehldau Trio.
That ensemble’s decade-long tenure ended late in 2004,
when Jeff Ballard replaced Jorge Rossy on drums.

The new trio was essentially a different group —
tougher, brighter, more bustling and assertive — even
though Mr. Mehldau’s pianism was still the central
focus. Its first album, “Day Is Done” (Nonesuch),
implied a renewal of purpose. The group’s debut at the
Village Vanguard last November gave the impression of
a search for self-definition.

This week the trio is back at the Vanguard, bearing
good news that the search, while continuing, has
already produced results. Tuesday night’s opening set
was a marvel of concentration and restraint. In a
sense, it combined the meditative grace of “House on
Hill” with the earthy insistence of “Day Is Done,”
though the better argument would be that the group has
found a way to generate its own kind of steam. 

Much of the change can be credited to a refinement of
the rapport between Mr. Mehldau and Mr. Ballard. What
registered a year ago as a welcome turbulence has
evened out just slightly, so that the momentum feels
subtler, more like an undercurrent. Nothing has been
sacrificed in this transformation, perhaps partly
because of the stabilizing presence of the bassist
Larry Grenadier.

On a brisk new original called “Ruby’s Rub,” the trio
applied a simmering heat of the sort that once
propelled Miles Davis’s mid-1960’s rhythm section,
which featured Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony
Williams on drums. Mr. Mehldau soloed judiciously,
leaving plenty of space between one phrase and the
next. Each opening was an opportunity for Mr. Ballard,
whose responses indicated a thoughtful rigor. 

The other new piece — “Buddha Realm,” an anagram of
Mr. Mehldau’s name — had a similarly investigative
quality. Mr. Grenadier provided its anchor, a one-note
ostinato. Confident in this mooring, Mr. Mehldau opted
for a floating sensibility in his solo, along with
some unforced ambidexterity. 

Mr. Mehldau has earned a reputation for reinterpreting
Radiohead, and most of his performances include at
least one popular cover. Here it was Soundgarden’s
“Black Hole Sun,” and it worked well enough. What gave
the piece its oomph were things incidental to the
tune: an impressive double-time solo by Mr. Grenadier,
followed by a tumultuous elaboration on the song’s
closing riff. 

The trio matched material and message more effectively
on a pair of stately ballads that advanced two
different perspectives on romance. “O que Será,” by
the Brazilian singer Chico Buarque, conveyed the sense
of something unrequited, mounting in intensity but
never breaking through. By contrast, the songbook
standard “More Than You Know” conveyed as much
emotional tension as a warm bath. And with its
luxurious tempo and Mr. Mehldau’s eloquent
inscription, it had the same effect as one. 

The Brad Mehldau Trio continues through Sunday at the
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th
Street, West Village; (212) 255-4037,


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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