Release date: March 25th 2008
Availability: CD, MP3 Download, iTunes
The first album for three years with the reformed trio (Jeff Ballard having replaced Jorge Rossy on drums) follows Brad Mehldau's now well established pattern of alternating studio and 'live' albums. Returning to the Village Vanguard for four nights in October 2006 for his fourth 'live' recording there, he once again takes full advantage of the capability of that legendary venue to produce near studio quality results together with an intimacy of performance before an attentitive audience that has so often produced some of the greatest jazz of all time. And from that experience comes the idea behind the album.
As Brad Mehldau says: "At the club, we play two or three sets a night, and the idea of the record was to present two sets of music in roughly the same order as we performed them."* So each disc in this two-disc set is presented like a 75-minute set at the club; that's two and half hours of music and that's just what "Live" provides. In other hands this could have been more than a challenge to the attention span of the most committed jazzer, but the creative high that fuelled Brad Mehldau's recent recordings with Pat Metheny is still burning strong and the result is scintillating, challenging music.
Despite his having dipped into rock on earlier albums and performances with versions of Radiohead's music, it is still something of a surprise that the opening track features a version of "Wonderwall" by Noel Gallagher (from "Oasis"). But as the following comments show, Brad Mehldau's take on this music is much more than a calculated tilt at popularity by aligning himself with rock tastes:
“This is one of those tunes that really grabbed me when it was being played a lot on the radio – the vibe, the way the band played together, the way the chorus was sung – but it took me a minute to come up with a way for us to play it. Finally I came up with this bass line that Larry (Grenadier) just nails, and Jeff (Ballard) found this dry, scratchy groove to go along with it. The idea was to take out a note from the end of Larry’s bassline pattern, so that it is too short for the normal meter. In that way, he overlaps with Jeff and I in a different place every time he repeats that figure he plays. One predecessor for that approach is – in a very different way, of course – Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, where John Bonham grooves in a traditional 4/4 meter, while Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones overlap him in 3/4.”*
And that opening bass riff sets the scene for this and much more, setting the tone of the whole album, an edgy familiarity that you know is all the time taking you somewhere else just as sure as a Hitchcock MacGuffin.
Equally successful is the long (23 minute) take on Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell's "Black Hole Sun".
There are four Brad Mehldau originals that appear for the first time: "Fit Cat", "B-Flat Waltz", "Buddha Realm" (the title an anagram of the composer's name) and "Ruby's Rub" and a fifth original, "Secret Beach", that had appeared earlier on the album, "Quartet". Talking of "Ruby's Rub", Brad Mehldau says: "It’s one of several tunes of mine where Monk is a heavy influence compositionally, the way the motif is presented and then gets displayed rhythmically, the sharp angles of the melody on the bridge, the harmony of the coda section, for example."* And of course, "Thelonious Monk's "Ruby My Dear" comes immediately to mind. Listen out for the references to Thelonious Monk in "B-Flat Waltz".
This hard bop pedigree is continued later with Percy Heath's "C.T.A" (first performed on Miles Davis' Blue Note album "Volume 2") which is given the vibrant, swinging upbeat treatment that it deserves.
On the more romantic side there are three ballads: a latin themed take on the Jimmy Fontana song "O Que Sera" that was a hit for Jose Feliciano, a beautiful reading of Ray Noble's “The Very Thought of You” and an equally absorbing version of the Billy Rose / Edward Eliscu
/ Vincent Youmans song "More Than You Know" which is associated with Billie Holiday.
The album closes with a version of John Coltrane's "Countdown", the third time that Brad Mehldau has recorded this (earlier versions are on "The Art Of The Trio, Volume 2: Live At The Village Vanguard" and on his very first album "Introducing Brad Mehldau"). The new version comes about as a result of the new dynamic in the band with the introduction of Jeff Ballard. As Brad Mehldau notes: “Although I’ve recorded “Countdown” already, something new started happening, sort of by itself with no planning, when we started playing with Jeff – near the end of the solos, the meter dissolves, and we start playing together referring to the harmony, but in a very stretched out, abstracted way, completely free of any meter. This is something relatively new for me that’s come about since Jeff has played with us, and I’m very excited about it – it’s a new way of expression for us.”*
This is a very significant album, not just for the sustained creativity of this most talented and visionary of musicians but also for the future of jazz.
*Quotes are from: Brad Mehldau Offical Website
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