Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mehldau in my medulla.

Back in university, I made the occasional trip to Boston with my New Jerseyian buddy and constant stage manager Felicity. She was friends with a jazz bassist who lived in a giant house with about 15 other student musicians studying at Boston University and Berklee. In the basement, they had a speakeasy (you had to be 21 to drink in actual bars) where concerts and jam sessions were held every Friday night. We always an amazing time staying there and I got to listen to and meet a bunch of budding musicians while drinking lousy American beer.

When there wasn't a concert on, there was great music playing in the house. After hearing that I was a fan of Radiohead, one of the residents pulled up some mp3s of jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio on Winamp for me. In addition to jazz standards and his original compositions, Mehldau plays a lot of songs by pop and rock musicians. Radiohead is one of his favourites. At the time, he had recorded piano and trio versions of Exit Music for a Film and Paranoid Android; he has since added Everything in its Right Place and Knives Out to his repertoire. Some of the other artists he covers include Nick Drake, Paul Simon and Nirvana. Mehldau treats them with the utmost seriousness and is never ironic or cutesy about it. (Or maybe he is, a little: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover is kind of funny in how seriously it is done.)

When I got back to Montreal, I went out and bought his Art of the Trio IV - Back at the Vanguard, which is a pretty great album. I wasn't too keen on my next purchase of his, Largo, a fusion studio recording with a full band produced by Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright). But I've recently got back into him and can recommend both his aweseom solo Live from Tokyo album (featuring a kick-ass 20-minute version of Paranoid Android) and his new trio album Day is Done, which is a breath of fresh air thanks to his new drummer Jeff Ballard.

Of course, Mehldau's selection of tunes is not all that distinguishes him. His classical training is very apparent in his playing (a la Bill Evans, a comparison he hates), but what I really like is the way he dissects, buries and then ressurects a melody like curious kid Jesus playing with a fly. My brain gets all tangled up in knots by his higher-math sense of rhythm, so when he finds his way back something resembling the actual tune in question it produces a real feeling of pleasure in my brain. Some people find him cold, but I get a real visceral response to some of his stuff.

Mehldau, who is opening solo for the Wayne Shorter Quartet at Massey Hall tonight, agreed to an e-mail interview with the Post and it is here. He didn't answer any of my questions about the Radiohead, Paul Simon, etc., covers, though he did reveal that he is digging the Arctic Monkeys. Those who find him pretentious (and, reading his epic liner notes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that) will be pleased to know that he finished one of his answers with a smilie, which, unfortunately, did not make it into print.

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