Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile: Alert Intelligence and Deep Sensitivity

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Thursday April 11, 2013

From The New York Times

Bluegrass and Jazz, Meeting in More Than the Middle
By: Nate Chinen

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau at Bowery Ballroom

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau come from different worlds but the same species, and whatever feels unlikely about their pairing is eclipsed by what feels perfectly natural. Mr. Thile, the mandolinist and singer with Punch Brothers, is a progressive-bluegrass pacesetter; Mr. Mehldau is the most influential jazz pianist of the last 20 years. Both are team players who can still give the impression of aesthetic self-containment. Both love Bach and the Beatles, and both have developed fan bases bigger and broader (and younger) than their genre silos can accommodate.

On Tuesday night they played a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom, kicking off a nine-city tour that ends in Austin, Tex., on April 20. They worked together as an acoustic duo with no reinforcements, Mr. Thile cradling his mandolin in the crook of an arm and Mr. Mehldau seated at a Steinway that stretched nearly the length of the stage. There was some courteous give and take in their 90-minute show, but more often a balance of enthusiastic risk and intuitive accord. It felt unhurried but went by quickly.

Mr. Thile is 32, a decade younger than Mr. Mehldau, and he has by far the more outgoing stage presence, which seems a combined byproduct of personality and training. He took an agreeable vocal turn on most of the songs in the set, applying his reedy tenor with a forthright attack but many subtle variations of phrasing. Against the ripe fullness of Mr. Mehldau’s sound he often used his mandolin as a percussive device, strumming hard in tempo. When he really got lost in the music, his body moved with a jumpy, ungainly grace, like a marionette made to do a jig.

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