The subtleties of the track sequencing of Blues and Ballads reflect those of The Brad Mehldau Trio in such a way this album could conceivably function as effectively as an introduction to to this great pianist, his stellar group and, in fact, jazz music itself.
These recordings of a selection of (mostly) standards of greater or lesser renown (Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl”),were captured on two days in Avatar Studios in 2012 and 2014, begging the question if this work was intended for the purpose of just such a collection as this—giving the group some respite to compose new original material–or whether the release constitutes fulfillment of a contractual obligation of sorts (the Nonesuch label’s well-established rapport with its artists suggests otherwise).
Regardless, there’s no mistaking the deep resonance of Blues and Ballads. James Farber’s engineering combined with Greg Calbi’s mastering puts the sound of the instruments right in the room where this disc is played, while the chemistry of Mehldau (who’s also the producer here) with his bassist of longstanding Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard (a recent recruit as of 2005) emanates a glow all its own, whether it’s the ruminative likes of “Since I Fell for You” or the more lighthearted Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You.”
Lennon/McCartney’s “And I Love Her” and the latter’s solo composition “My Valentine” are two of the longest tracks on the record, the threesome leaving the song structure behind to explore, in some detail, the melody/rhythm combination of the tunes. The presence of this contemporary material is a testament to Mehldau’s loyalty to the jazz genre’s great tradition of piano trios, as is inclusion of Jon Brion’s “Little Person,” the presence of which reminds of the composer/musician/producer’s ambitious collaboration with the pianist on 2002’s Largo.
But that’s one aspect of Blues and Ballads that distinguishes it from a prior similarly-conceived collection, Anything Goes, from 2004. The fulsome passion that permeates these seven tracks doesn’t preclude the stark strains of this rendition of “These Foolish things (Remind Me of You),” but only renders more indelible the impression of genuine inspiration radiating from the music on this album.