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Nonesuch to Release Mehldau’s "Highway Rider" on March 16

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Monday January 25, 2010

Nonesuch Records is set to release Highway Rider—a double-disc of original work by pianist and composer Brad Mehldau—on March 16, 2010. The album is his second collaboration with renowned producer Jon Brion and features performances by Mehldau’s trio—drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier—as well as drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a chamber orchestra led by Dan Coleman. Mehldau also orchestrated and arranged the album’s 15 pieces for the ensemble. For a behind-the-scenes look, check out the new video detailing the project at nonesuch.com/media.

Highway Rider is now available for pre-order in the Nonesuch Store, and in a Nonesuch Store Exclusive, orders include a special bonus track: a demo Mehldau recorded for Brion early on in the album’s development, in which the composer explains how he’d like for the title track to unfold and offers a run-through of the piece on piano.

Although Brad Mehldau is best known as a jazz composer and improviser, he has written several long-form compositions and songs, including an orchestral piece called The Brady Bunch Variations for the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France and two Carnegie Hall commissions: Love Songs for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and Love Sublime for soprano Renée Fleming.

“It’s so exciting to write something and have it in your head and then hear it for the first time being played by these magnificent musicians,” he says. “It’s really an emotional experience. I’m still reeling from it.”

“For me, the biggest challenge was the orchestration—which notes to assign to what instruments. I’ve been studying lots of orchestral scores for a while now—Strauss, Brahms, Tchaikovsky; a lot of big romantic stuff in particular. But while I was writing, I was also listening closely to modern orchestrators and arrangers, and there are two who have made an impact on me especially—François Rauber in his work with Jacques Brel, and Bob Alcivar in his work with Tom Waits.”

Jon Brion also produced Mehldau’s 2002 album Largo, and Mehldau had been hoping to work with him again since then. “I knew from working with Jon on Largo that he was the guy who would find a way to put all the pieces together for this project. It was really quite a beast sonically at some points—two drummers playing at the same time, bass, sax, and piano, and then the orchestra on top of that. I wanted to record everything live whenever possible but wasn’t sure if we could do it. The first conversation with Jon about the music, that was for him a done deal—it had to be live, with the orchestra and the jazz group playing together. Jon had the foresight during the recording, and then a great deal of craft during the mixing, to bring it all together and sound like it does. And we were able to avoid what the conductor Dan Coleman jokingly referred to as ‘disco strings’—that is, adding the orchestra onto the jazz group’s performance after the fact.”

Largo was a step in a new direction for the pianist, incorporating horns, strings, vibes, and electronic instruments—as well as Brion’s unique production touches. As Brion points out, though, “This time around—having done these classical things of late, and these different commissioned pieces he’s had to write—was a completely different thing. It’s like, ‘OK, I know what I learned from doing that last one. This time I have a specific angle.’”