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Interview with Brad Mehldau   Printer Friendly Version
Author: Ben Pomeroy
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

Already a convert to Brad Mehldau’s music I headed to the Vanguard this Monday excited, but also with the confidence of knowing that I was going to experience a quality show. He was starting his first evening of a six show run at the Village Vanguard, a venue he knows quite well and where he has even recorded a live album.

The first set already sold out, I arrived for the closing eleven o’clock set which was standing room only. After I negotiated the crowded steps down into one of the most historic and snug jazz clubs in New York, I had the luck of being able to exchange a few words with Brad Mehldau himself before he sat down at his piano.

I found Mehldau in the back room of the club, feet on a desk chatting with his sidemen, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. Brad Mehldau has a calculative and polite demeanor as he smiles and listens carefully, interested and more than willing to talk with a fan. He is younger than most touring jazz musicians, 32, yet Brad Mehldau is a seasoned performer with several albums, international tours and industry awards under his belt. To his credit Meldau’s unassuming presence does not evoke any form of jadedness that can be the case with so many talented musicians who experience success and praise at an early age.

I asked Brad what his thoughts were on coming back to the Vanguard. He replied that it was always such an “intense” experience in the past that the trio could only do it once or twice a year. Mehldau said that they were on the eve of returning to the studio to record a new album, a follow up to his last release, Largo, with Warner Brothers. We would be hearing that night his usual coterie of ballads, originals and a few themes that they were experimenting on in a live format.

I first caught wind of Brad Mehldau with his arrangement of the Indie rock masterpiece, “Exit Music (For a Film)” by the English band Radiohead. I asked him what drew him to such pop pieces and more esoteric works like Nick Drake’s “Riverman”. He stated that with most popular music there is a level of simplicity within the structure that allows for improvisation and interpretation. Such is the case with his rendition of “Blackbird”, an almost perfectly composed piece in its simple structure and beauty, in which a listener may feel that any derivation from Lennon and McCartney’s format would be a corruption. Mehldau rebukes such a thought as he honors and amplifies the original themes of the song and extends them by adding a short improvisational piano section.

After speaking with Mehldau I returned to my seat and the house lights dimmed. Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy took the stage followed shortly by Mehldau in the same quiet polite manner in which he presented himself to me. With a meditative breath and exchange with his rhythm section he laid into his first piece, “In to Eden”.

“Mehldau doesn’t just play songs he plays commentaries”, remarked a friend midway through the song. Throughout the set Mehldau commented with punctuated melodies and floating cords, paying dues to Cole Porter and Radio Head once again. Rossy and Grenadier locked seamlessly with Mehldau, they themselves rhythmically commenting or not commenting, as sections are stretched and space is given to isolate certain piano phrasing. These are the typical silent statements that add weight to a Mehldau composition. Such absences have coined much of Mehldau’s style in the past. Rossy and Grenadier approach the music with the same thoughtfulness that Mehldau does, a fortunate result of having played for so long as a Trio. Rossy and Grenadier play through the music as one unit, not simply individuals playing together. Each of them a virtuoso in their instruments, they layer their respective sounds and augmentations with taste and color. Mehldau closed the set with a sad and elegant ballad. His final comment of the night. He thanked the crowd and exited quietly.

Leaving a Brad Mehldau show is somewhat like leaving a beautiful reading of your favorite poem or story, or an inspirational lecture by your favorite professor their living room. You feel intellectually nourished and emotionally awakened.

We have much to look forward to in the remainder of this week and beyond in the career of Brad Mehldau.

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