LIVE: Brad Mehldau Trio @ The Egg, 12/14/14

Review by Bokonon

The left hand is light, and hews close to the right, clustered in the middle of the keyboard. The aim, it appears, is warmth. The nine-foot notes are left to the string bass; the airy highs to the cymbals. There is no flash, displays of speed are rare, and, in an interesting turnabout, some right hand filigrees seem to borrow from the ropy repeating patterns of electric guitarists.

There is much to be learned from sitting behind Brad Mehldau.

The master musician brought his trio to The Egg for the first time in a decade on December 18, for a typically mesmerizing concert of modern jazz. Modern not meaning out, free or angular, just of its time. While he stuck close to his own songbook, Elmo Hope and the Beatles’ catalog for Sunday’s show, Mehldau assays Nick Drake, Radiohead and Neil Young as frequently as he does Cole Porter.

Mehldau, like a painter, is all about the gesture, the fingers against pursed lips slowly leaping from thought to action, touching the keys with measured force. Often, he let his left hand drop, tickling out a solo with only five digits. It’s easy to compare him with Bill Evans, but it’s because he has a similar sense of space, of silence, within the music. But his phrasing on Sunday echoed, at almost every turn, Burt Bacharach; and his economy outstripped Bud Powell.

“And I Love Her” was given plenty of room to breathe, and McCartney’s “My Valentine” (minus the random Johnny Depp posturing) was a revelation. Mehldau did nod to an older brand of standards with “Almost Like Being in Love,” but balanced the choice with his own “Spiral.” He offered a gift with an encore of Vince Gauraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here.”

As noted, Mehldau hung in the middle of the piano. Longtime lowman Larry Grenadier took whatever thump was to be had, but he, too, resists romping. While solos in “Almost” and Hope’s “De-Dah” were remarkable, they were not riotous.

Drummer Jeff Ballard, however, was willing to go there. He clearly sees battery as a verb. His solo breaks at The Egg — inventive, serpentine, bright — were met with applause as clattery as his efforts. Mehldau sat Indian-style, transfixed by the noise. Ballard was doing nothing new — rudiments piled on rudiments, press rolls like violin trills — he was simply doing it very well. Next to Ballard, rock and roll drumming is mere thuggery.

Mehldau, however, is always doing something new. Like his pal, mandolinist Chris Thile, Mehldau is stretching the bounds of music in oblique, often mellow ways, a revolution harder to spy, more difficult to pin down than one dressed in fireworks.

Like Thile, too, you can hear Mehldau — jug-eared — listening. And that might be the loudest sound in the room.

Jeff Nania’s review at Metroland

Sete Waltz
De-Dah (Elmo Hope)
And I Love Her (Beatles)
Valsa Brasileira (Edu Lobo)
Almost Like Being in Love (Lerner/Lowe)
My Valentine (Paul McCartney)
Christmas Time Is Here (Vince Guaraldi)

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