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Brad Mehldau Trio at Berklee shows ensemble at its best

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Sunday December 14, 2014

From The Boston Globe

Brad Mehldau Trio at Berklee shows ensemble at its best
By: Jon Garelick

Wynton Marsalis has said that the defining characteristic of jazz is “relaxed intensity.” The pianist and composer Brad Mehldau somewhat fits that description, although with Mehldau it’s more like “relaxed obsessive.” Both sides of the equation were on display in a World Music concert at Berklee Performance Center on Saturday night, where Mehldau’s celebrated trio played a 100-minute set, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.

Mehldau, 44, has worked in a variety of formats, including genre-spanning projects with the operatic soprano Renée Fleming and singer-bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile. But the jazz-piano trio has been Mehldau’s base of operations, where his undaunting technique and flowing lyricism earned him early comparisons to Bill Evans.

There was plenty of that lyric flow in the Berklee show — especially in the trio’s slow-tango take on Lennon and McCartney’s “And I Love Her,” and on the blues-jazz standard “Since I Fell for You.” In each of these, Mehldau eased the melodic lines with generous rests, like breaths, but those lines never went slack — they hung in the air, waiting for resolution, often provided with a richly voiced chord.

But the obsessive side showed itself early. The odd-metered, set-opening original, “Spiral,” with its attractive left-hand figure, took on a relentless figure, as it pedaled the same two chords, modulating, returning, ceaseless. The second piece, an original waltz, likewise both free and obsessive, worked the same simple melody as the band dug in, building intensity with a thickening texture.

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