Living up to the hype
From the Spring 2004 issue.
By Brad Mehldau Trio
Warner Bros.: 2004
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Pianist Brad Mehldau has always seemed over-hyped. His major label status is probably part of what shapes that perception he records for Warner Bros., and certainly the distribution and advertising afforded there has played a part in his considerable success. But for these ears, a set like "Places," from a few years back, sounded sort of tepid, and full of nondescript melodies.
The past, of course, is history. "Anything Goes," the Brad Mehldau Trio's latest CD, offers up a set of inspired and very original takes on some classic American songbook gems, along with a couple of familiar tunes from more recent hit lists.
Mehldau and company prove themselves singular interpreters here. Much like last year's near-masterpiece of songbook covers, "Up for It," by Keith Jarrett and his trio, Mehldau and crew hit a quirky groove early, on the Harold Arlen/Ted Kohler tune "Get Happy." Instead of giving the song the expectedly upbeat treatment, the trio goes for darker tones, with the pianist's left hand picking out foreboding chords while his right hand sounds jagged, as if it's snapping shards of glass off a tinted window pane. Drummer Jorge Rossy and bassist Larry Grenadier flow loosely, bumping up against Mehldau's sharp edges, before going propulsive mid-tune, taking the melody to a different level.
That opening tune sets the tone for the evening familiar melodies used as touchstones for the trio's brilliant improvisational musings. The title tune, Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" done most famously by Frank Sinatra comes out dark and edgy here also, while Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" showcases Mehldau in a more fluid and un-Monk-like flow against Grenadier's metronome-mode bass. On "The Nearness of You," the Hoagy Carmichael jewel, Mehldau sounds oddly angular, like Monk in a pensive mood.
Also included are wonderful takes on Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place," and a gorgeously melancholy version of Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
A near-masterpiece. Maybe the hype is justified. This one says it is.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.