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LIVE REVIEW Brad Mehldau's Highway Rider in London

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Monday November 29, 2010

Londoners have been spoilt for chances to catch Brad Mehldau recently, thanks to his extended residency at the Wigmore Hall. In contrast to those intimate chamber concerts, his appearance at this year’s London Jazz Festival (serving as the European premier of ‘Highway Rider’) was an opportunity to experience his ambitious musical vision writ large, with support from the Britten Sinfonia, regular trio partners Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums, with Matt Chamberlain on percussion and Joshua Redman on saxophones.

‘Highway Rider’ is an extended work uniting jazz with classical and rock, two influences that have long coloured Mehldau’s solo and trio output. This concert featured the work in its entirety, played exactly as on the album, with the obvious exception of Mehldau’s and Redman’s improvisations. Although this may be unusual for a jazz concert, it was sympathetic to the work’s journey-themed narrative.

For a person prone to fierce intellectualism (see the liner notes to his early albums as an example), Mehldau writes remarkably accessible and engaging music. He has previously hinted at the romanticism of Brahms and Schuman as an inspiration. This came across in several poignant solo interludes and cadenzas. Yet, the overriding sound of ‘Highway Rider’ was distinctively American, notably on ‘We’ll Cross the River Together’ with its Copland-like theme evoking the wide-open spaces of Mehldau’s home country.

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