On Common Ground: The Pairing of Piano Men

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Monday September 19, 2011


Excerpt From: On Common Ground: The Pairing of Piano Men
By: Nate Chinen

‘Modern Music’ (Nonesuch), featuring Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, is a less joyous album, perhaps because it carries the burden of an agenda. It’s also the greater achievement. Mr. Mehldau and Mr. Hays, both in their early 40s, don’t have to work to find common ground, so they focus instead on bringing a high sheen to some choice material: one repurposed original each; potent adaptations of works by Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Ornette Coleman; and four intricate pieces by Patrick Zimmerli.

That last name appears on the album cover, and for good reason: Mr. Zimmerli, a product of the same high school jazz program as Mr. Mehldau, is responsible for the album’s stern, ingenious arrangements, which reflect his foothold in contemporary classical music. Mr. Zimmerli’s writing is intricately plotted; where there’s space for improvisation he lays useful traps, seeking to thwart the reflexive fluency of his players.

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