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Friday, Nov. 2, 2012

Brad Mehldau Trio

Brad Mehldau Trio

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Continuing the trend of high-minded jazzers toying with pop cover tunes (see The Bad Plus and Soulive), Brad Mehldau goes the way of Sufjan Stevens, Elvis Costello, Nick Drake and even Jimi Hendrix for his latest batch of piano-tinkling trio leadership. It could be anything: acknowledgment of the precarious marketability of jazz, a smirking nod to the times, or, harder to fathom, a sign of antsy boredom with old standards like the awesome, complexly spry “Brownie Speaks.” Or maybe all these cats simply like the modern tunes.

Based on much of the lukewarm slink here, a case for the latter might be hard to believe. Stevens’ “Holland” will leave you checking the stereo for a pulse. Drake’s sludgy “Time Has Told Me” is given skeleton only by endless solos and the title track, at just over four minutes, somehow still feels overlong. And while the Hendrix smash “Hey Joe” sounds undeniably in the pocket, it’s the sweetness of the aforementioned Clifford Brown gem and the righteous groove on Sonny Rollins’ classic “Airegin” that illustrate everything that’s wrong with the rest: what’s sacrificed on pop covers is the sophistication of jazz. Stretching out those three-chorders gives a smack-in-the-mouth dose of so much of rock and pop’s simplicity. Mainstream-friendly melodies leave little spark for interpretive interplay and even less for that open jazz sense of “where’s this gonna go?” Not only is the intensity checked down, but there’s a feel that the uber-talented music geeks are merely playing around, goofing, doing it all with an almost ironical sense of genre-condescension.

Modern jazz fans are already decided on Mehldau’s tasty chops and impeccable touch of balladry, but they’d find greater exploration in his earlier 2012 release of all originals. There’s little here recommendable to fans looking for an Elvis Costello cover, or to anyone else.


 

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