Blues and Ballads by Brad Mehldau Trio, review by John McBeath


Album:  Blues and Ballads
Artist:   Brad Mehldau Trio
Release Date: June 2016
Label:    Nonesuch

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This release – the group’s fifth – after the acclaimed album Where Do You Start, in 2012, from US pianist Brad Mehldau features the leader’s preferred format: the piano trio The music explores works by composers from Charlie Parker and Cole Porter to Lennon and McCartney.

It’s a beautifully played, satisfying collection that displays Mehldau’s brilliant ability for subtlety and understatement, ably assisted by long-term associates Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums.

One track that encapsulates the overall mood is Jack Strachey’s WWII ballad These Foolish Things where Mehldau extracts every nuance of nostalgia and emotion from the tune without a trace of cliché.

Cole Porter’s I Concentrate on You flows along in an unhurried but highly expressive way, making use of stating the melody in the bass register.

The Blues are well represented by the opener, pianist Buddy Johnson’s 1945 piece Since I Fell for You with its slow tempo, ten minute work-over of the twelve bar format, while Jon Brion’s sad story Little Person is sensitively interpreted, adding Grenadier’s contemplative bass solo.

The Beatles hit And I Love Her explores the repetitive phrasing of the original before drifting into a highly effective improvisation where extensive treble runs are countered by bass chord foundations, punctuated effectively by Ballard’s kit.

Paul McCartney’s My Valentine, the closer, is taken at about the same slow tempo as the original and in addition to Mehldau’s out-of-tempo passage also features another perceptive solo from Grenadier.

This collection shows Mehldau’s technical virtuosity, playing in a cut down style that gets right into the essential character of these songs.

Brad Mehldau, piano
Larry Grenadier, bass
Jeff Ballard, drums

Review originally published by the Australian

For just over 24 years I have been a freelance writer, publishing in that time a wide variety of genres: news items, live concert reviews, travel articles, features, personality profiles, and CD and book reviews. I have written for various in-flight magazines, The Adelaide Review, The Republican, The Bulletin, The Australian, The Advertiser, The Melbourne Herald Sun and several regional newspapers. In 1994 I won a national travel-writing prize sponsored by The Australian newspaper, which led to my writing regularly for that paper. Since 2003 I have been jazz critic for The Advertiser and The Australian newspapers, on average contributing weekly to each paper. In 2005 I won a national Jazz Writing Competition sponsored by the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.