Saturday, April 17, 2004

Brad Mehldau – Anything Goes (Warner Jazz, 2004)

I have to confess to never really being a big fan of Mehldau’s music. He’s obviously a talented pianist, but his music has always struck me as rather mannered and a little cold. The exception was last years Largo which fleshed out his sound with some tasteful electronic elements and horns. This added texture benefited him greatly, and I was sad to see him revert to the traditional trio format for this album.

“Tres Palabras” has a relaxed opening, melodic, spare and mid-tempo with the drummer filling in on brushes. The title track “Anything Goes” keeps the mid-tempo vibe, with the drummer keeping subtle time on cymbals. The music is very mild mannered and polite, grandma will love it! After a bass solo, Mehldau brings the group back from slumberland with a nice solo that adds energy without breaking the groove. “Dreamsville” is also taken at a ballad tempo, but thing start to wake up a little with a cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in it’s Right Place.” Bass opens the tune, giving way to a darker and lower key melody. Mehldau ups the ante with a fleet fingered solo, but the overall effect and feel of the tune is still pretty chilly, you would hardly recognize it as a Radiohead song unless you were a fan of the band.

“Get Happy” starts off in a little more spirited fashion, than some of the other tunes. The melody gives way for Mehldau to improvise on the theme and then he’s joined by the bass and drums for a round of collective improvisation. This is an extended improvisation with melodic and fast paced solos – nicely done. “Skippy” keeps things upbeat and the band delivers a nice uptempo performance that shows that they do indeed have a pulse. Rounding out the disc is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stilly Crazy After All These Years.” He slows down the familiar balled melody to a ballad tempo, very rhapsodic and surely radio friendly.

In the end, I find this to be a pleasant but not overly interesting piano trio. It would be nice to see Mehldau abandon the trio format more often and use different players – his recent duet with Joel Frahm shows that he is a sympathetic accompanist to horn players, and some of the sideman roles he has taken on with the Fresh Sound New Talent label have paired him with challenging colleagues like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Cheek.

Rating: 6

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