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Mehldau's "Highway Rider" - Feature Article in the New York Times

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Saturday March 13, 2010

A Jazz-Pop Encounter: The Sequel
by Nate Chinen

BROWS furrowed, Brad Mehldau and Jon Brion wore the same look of concentration here one evening last spring, perched on Aeron chairs in a mixing room at Ocean Way Recording studios. Mr. Mehldau, the acclaimed jazz pianist, was listening to a piece he had recently recorded in the adjacent room. Mr. Brion, the independent-minded pop producer and composer, had his hands on a console, tweaking and toggling, adjusting and readjusting the sound.

Mr. Mehldau, concerned about the bright ambience of a vintage analog synthesizer, wondered aloud whether it should fade in more gradually. “Why don’t you ride it in playback?” Mr. Brion suggested. Then, to no one in particular: “We make these little nods to being tasteful now and then.”

They were working on the title track of Mr. Mehldau’s impressive album “Highway Rider,” due out on Nonesuch on Tuesday. The tune — a melding of somber classical harmony with taut improvisation, atop a skittering rock beat — seemed to get at the heart of their kinship, an allegiance unique in the worlds of jazz and pop, and squarely belonging to neither.

This isn’t their first go-round together. Eight years ago Mr. Mehldau released “Largo” (Warner Brothers), produced by Mr. Brion with the same dry atmospherics and organic texture he had brought to the literate rock of Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann and later would bring to the horizonless hip-hop of Kanye West. An encyclopedia of popular music and a maestro of winsome melancholy, Mr. Brion was determined to upend the standard practice behind an instrumental jazz record.

Read the entire piece at the New York Times Online