Brad Mehldau: River Man

In some circles, Mehldau may be almost as influential for his repertoire as his pianism. He has done more than any other musician of his generation to expand the concept of jazz "standards" beyond the traditional confines of Gershwin and Tin Pan Alley. Because of him, Radiohead and Nick Drake are now part of the great jazz game. Mehldau has also recorded Drake's "River Man" in an exemplary trio version, but this solo piano outing from a Tokyo concert offers a different perspective. Mehldau opens with a soothing melody statement, his left hand reminiscent of the strumming of Drake's guitar. But the textures soon get thicker and his phrases more insistent. By mid-solo he is attacking the keyboard with booming chords, harsh and angry, more Wagnerian than Drake-ish. We still encounter Mehldau's trademark "conversation between the hands," but instead of crisscrossing melodies, his two fists are hurling large harmonies back and forth at each other. We have now come full circle from the moody romanticism of the first Art of the Trio recording. This is formidable pianism, brash and challenging.

December 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Brad Mehldau: River Man (trio version, 2000)

Brad Mehldau has made no secret of his affinity for the singer-songwriter Nick Drake and of his tune “River Man” in particular. The version Mehldau’s trio recorded at the Village Vanguard during a three-night stand in 2000 can make one’s hair stand on end. Drake’s chord progression makes the change from minor to major (to turn a phrase on its head), allowing for an unexpected release of tension in the song’s chorus. Larry Grenadier’s bass and Mehldau’s left hand stay fairly true to what Drake composed as the soloing gets under way, but Mehldau’s right hand breaks free of its tether. Seven minutes into the piece, you realize no one is hanging onto the melody any longer but still you feel it’s there. Pay attention; this is a remarkable piece of work. Mehldau’s trio has synthesized the lessons of its forebears – specifically those of Messrs. Evans and Jarrett – and finds its own voice in doing so, as this performance evinces.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments


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