Brad Mehldau Creates Solo Piano Intensity On ’10 Years Solo Live’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

mehldauIf it begs credulity to state the music Brad Mehldau creates in a solo piano setting is more intense than that musicianship within the intricate interplay of his trio. One listen to this self-compiled, decade-spanning collection will fundamentally alter that perception. On his own as with his group, Mehldau plays with almost equal parts purpose and abandon, yet those respective sensations penetrate more directly when he is alone.

Not that such validation is necessary, but 10 Years Solo Live, reaffirms what a master of dynamics is this icon of contemporary jazz.. His concentration at the ivory keys is so focused it bequeaths him such subtle command of his sound that, like the subtitle to this first CD in this box of four,’Dark/Light,” the contrasting tones emerge in proper proportion to each other throughout each individual piece as well as the continuity of the four CD set: the whole is both greater than and equal to the sum of its parts. As a result, even the casual listener should become wholly immersed in the sound of Brad Mehldau’s piano elegant, passionate playing.

Dark/Light (Disc 1): Providing touch-points for intensive listening, the first disc is  an ideal introduction to this set,comprised as it is almost wholly of cover material including tunes from Radiohead, the Beatles and the Great American Songbook. But Brad Mehldau uses familiar melodic fragments such as that of Lennon/McCartney’s “And I Love Her” for wide-ranging exploration of those motifs during the course of which he leaves them far behind even as  he moves more and more deeply into their nuances. Along these same lines, the familiar tune of “My Favorite Things” becomes something altogether new and different before Mehldau is done with it.

The Concert(Disc 2): Mehldau is no less involved, but definitely more low-key and accessible here than on the prior disc in 10 Years Solo.  But then, as this great musician describes his approach to live concerts within the his customarily lengthy but well-thought out liner notes, he acknowledges the presence of the audience as integral to the experience, a statement reaffirmed with his playing. There is a sense here not just of initial introduction, but constant and regular pacing to insure he and his listeners remain in touch for the duration of the performance. At this point, on this disc, as with the others enclosed with the twenty-four page booklet in this austere package, it may become impossible not to sit down and listen to this awe-inspiring music rather than relegate it to mere background sound(s).

Intermezzo/Ruckblick (Disc 3):The regular inclusion of audience applause during 10 Years Solo Live  is less a self-congratulatory gesture than an opportunity for the listener to catch his own breath from the never-ending flow of ideas Brad Mehldau’s generating as he plays. As such, those momentary interludes supply marked contrast to the deep feelings  pouring forth, a necessary if only split-second respite that allows absorption of the fine tones the man elicits from the various pianos he uses (and, in writing about them, proves he is expertly conversant in their respective distinguishing qualities). Striking the keyboard gingerly or with emphatic authority, this former member of Joshua Redman’s ensemble reminds the piano is classified as a percussion instrument.

E Minor/E Major (Disc 4): As he so clearly delineates in his copious notes, Mehldau structured 10 Years Solo Live like a performance and certainly that continuity becomes clear in hearing the four discs in (somewhat) quick succession, if not in one protracted sitting. The gentility the pianist so often displays is the proverbial calm before the storm of a fiery conclusion that not only extends the flow of the music across the entire set, but aids significantly in distinguishing each disc from the others (as much as the appearance of this box helps distinguish Brad Mehldau’s regular and consistent solo work from his trio collaborations). Thus, the final tidal wave of notes reaffirms 10 Years Live as a multi-faceted listening experience, in sequence or as separate and unique sessions, an unusually enlightening encounter with one of the most brilliant musicians of our time.

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