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Brad Mehldau Live in Tokyo Review

Live. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Mehldau delivers his own deeply personal take on standards from Gershwin to Radiohead...

Martin Longley 2002

Brad Mehldau has emerged from sweeping changes at his old Warner Bros home, side-stepping to the Nonesuch label, with hopes that they will continue the accustomed practice of leaving him to his own creative devices. An increasing facet of Brad's touring life is the solo piano recital. This is a format that he finds more risky than the accustomed trio dates. Performing alone is something that hasn't yet built up a settled vocabulary.

The promoters of Mehldau's February 2003 gig at Tokyo's Sumida Triphony Hall asked if they could record the proceedings. All they used were a few overhead microphones, but Brad was highly impressed with the technical results. He was also very happy with his own performance.

In 1999,Mehldau released his Elegiac Cycle of conceptualised solo piano originals. By way of contrast, this live sequel focuses on standards (by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk) or neo-standards (by Nick Drake and Radiohead). Brad has been playing some of these for years, and felt that he'd finally captured their definitive versions.

Mehldau edits himself as he goes along, keeping Nick Drake's "Things Behind The Sun" down to a tight five minutes. Adhering to its main theme, he pushes emphatically, then switches to a more lyrical chorus. The three minute introduction of "Someone To Watch Over Me" is the only segment necessarily credited to Mehldau, seamlessly entering the tune's main body.

Frequent coughing bouts underline the hall's generous acoustic, as Brad sensitively prettifies the Gershwins. He paces carefully, slightly dragging phrases for greater emphasis. He'll keep his left hand pedalling, chiming lightly with the right, building layers that are reminiscent of Philip Glass's solo piano works.

Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" is performed like a classical chamber piece, with incongruous infusions of Cuban motifs. "Monk's Dream" perches perfectly between barrelhouse boogie woogie and rippling Conlon Nancarrow player piano. The epic "Paranoid Android" has a very steady building before its first release, calming into a soft interlude before rising back up to densely chopping blocks. Then, it's back to the Gershwins for "How Long Has This Been Going On?", nonchalantly crawling, with more spacious chimes. Brad sometimes manages to turn his expensive piano into a battered upright, teasing out its earthy side, but still retaining a concert hall dignity.

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