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Searching, Storytelling Jazz At Its Finest

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Tuesday May 23, 2017

From The Guardian

Brad Mehldau Trio review – searching, storytelling jazz at its finest
By: John Fordham

Barbican, London
Mehldau is one of the contemporary form’s great improvisers, and with Jeff Ballard and Larry Grenadier he made unexpected but riveting connections.

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker maintain that if two scenes in a show can’t be linked by a “but” or a “therefore” then you can’t tell an interesting story. It seems to be a conviction that pianist Brad Mehldau, one of contemporary jazz’s great improvising tale-tellers, feels deeply. Mehldau is a master of bringing familiar-sounding narratives to forks in the road, and of then unveiling the tangential anecdotes, disputes and conversations that follow from taking new diversions. He reminded a sold-out audience at London’s Barbican of that seductive art in a riveting two-hour set, the penultimate gig of a brief UK tour.

Unlike the group’s recent Blues and Ballads covers album, the programme was dominated by original pieces. Mehldau perched sideways on a stool in habitual contemplative posture, gently rubbing his hands together, watching his partners for action. Drummer Jeff Ballard began a brittle medium groove and Larry Grenadier a throbbing bass vamp, and Mehldau set off on a sharply accented, melodically roaming piano line, with hints of blues phrasing – he later announced it as “a blues, of sorts”. As usual, he played peering at the floor, as if clues to his next phrase were inscribed there. Bursts of terse linear playing were divided by gifted contrapuntal improvisations, with boldly contrasting left-hand figures spinning off the increasingly urgent propositions of the right. Ballard played a shapely percussion break of crisp, hooky episodes, before the piece wound up on a brusque three-note snap.

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