Pauly Morley's New Series: Where Do You Start

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Wednesday December 05, 2012


You have to start somewhere, even when you’ve started a few times before. Let’s start with the latest Brad Mehldau album, which is called, as if he knew what I was thinking, Where Do You Start.

Mehldau is a good place to start in general, if you are interested in: a) where jazz might be right now; b) solo piano playing; c) piano as a part of an acoustic improvising trio with double bass and drums; d) the evolution of the idea of the standard; e) Nick Drake; f) The Bad Plus; g) record labels, such as Nonesuch, Mehldau’s open-minded, still-functioning record label, which specialises in music that can’t quite be classified; h) musical history in general (particularly including a few hundred years of serious, exploratory composing for a variety of instruments); i) the enigmatic history of improvisation in classical composing (Bach, when he was alive, obscure as a composer, was known as the greatest improviser on the organ in Europe; Mozart was known in his day first as an improviser, then as a composer, then as a pianist; Chopin generated his compositions through improvising and developing themes in real time, his finished pieces reportedly losing some of their initial improvised radiance; Liszt would close his performances with topical virtuoso improvisations, and Debussy viewed improvisation as a central creative motivation) and j) ultimately, the fantastic, constantly accumulating and deepening history of Brad Mehldau, and the albums he’s recorded since his debut in 1996.

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