REVIEW Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac - All About Jazz

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Tuesday March 08, 2011

From All About Jazz

Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac
By John Kelman

If there’s any (relatively) young pianist ready to take the torch from Keith Jarrett when it comes to solo performance, it’s Brad Mehldau. In the space of (again, relatively) a few short years, from his mid-1990s emergence with saxophonist Joshua Redman through his early’“and, some might suggest, rather precocious, were they not already so well-formed and mature’“Art of the Trio series, the 40 year-old pianist has emerged as a player of comparable virtuosity and ability to mine the furthest ethereal reaches of improvisation, regardless of context. Still, beyond superficial reference points, there’s more to distance Mehldau from Jarrett than there is to link them together. Live in Marciac is only Mehldau’s third full-on solo piano recording, and it demonstrates just how far he’s come since Live in Tokyo (Nonesuch, 2004).

Unlike Jarrett, Mehldau doesn’t start with a blank slate when he hits the stage. Instead, he combines original material with older standards and imaginative reworkings of more recent pop songs (another difference, since Jarrett’s interpretive interests largely date half a century ago or more)’“in this case Kurt Cobain (“Lithium”), Radiohead (“Exit Music for a Film”) and The Beatles (“Martha My Dear”)’“to build sets where form provides a clear open door to freedom. Still, despite the sometimes apparent complexity of Mehldau’s music suggesting stronger adherence to structure than to unfettered abandon’“contrasting Jarrett’s Faulknerian ability to compose spontaneously in stream-of-consciousness-like fashion’“the lines are blurrier than they might appear, especially when taking into account Mehldau’s almost unprecedented left/right hand independence, and single-hand techniques that allow him to accomplish things that would seem impossible for a sole, two-handed pianist.

“Things Behind the Sun,” reprised here from Live in Tokyo, best highlights Mehldau’s structural and improvisational growth. Opening Tokyo with a relatively faithful, brief and self-contained rendition of Nick Drake’s simple song and memorable melody, here Mehldau places the tune mid-set on this two-CD/one-DVD set. Taken at a brighter clip, he expands it to nearly double Tokyo’s length, with a driving left hand that alternates between staggering contrapuntal passages and a propulsive rhythm where Mehldau does, with one hand, what most pianists require two to accomplish. Watching his performance of the song on the DVD’“beautifully filmed with multiple camera angles that make clear how he what he does, even if it’s also enough to send most pianists packing for the hills’“is even more thrilling, even for the non-pianists in his fan base. Segueing seamlessly into “Litihium,” Mehldau discovers Cobain’s inner gospel as much as he does the late Nirvana singer/guitarist’s inner Bach, building to a thrilling, fugue-like interlude, improvising over a motoring bass line before ultimately returning to Cobain’s theme, successfully evoking its energy while adding, at times, almost unfathomable layers of detail.

Read the entire review here