Brad Mehldau Trio The Art of the Trio – Recordings: 1996-2001 Review

Compilation. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A trio that changed the landscape of small group jazz.

Alyn Shipton 2011

The piano trio of Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy unquestionably changed the landscape of small group jazz during the period covered by this boxed set. This gathers together all their original five Art of the Trio albums, plus a bonus disc of variant versions.

Keith Jarrett’s lyricism and Bill Evans’ intellectual approach are both ingredients in Mehldau’s work; but this collection conveys, more than ever, his individual gift of deconstructing standards with surgical precision and then reassembling them as showcases for his keyboard invention. Whereas some of his contemporaries – the late Esbjörn Svensson, for example – took forward Evans’ view that a piano trio was a colloquy, a conversation for equal voices, it is apparent on listening to all six albums here that this trio is all about Mehldau. It is his genius, his dash of daring, his exceptional touch, and his ability to conceive a performance lasting over several minutes as a compositional entity that mark him out.

The bonus disc offers the chance to compare a different version of London Blues with the originally issued one on Volume 4 – the up-tempo test-piece has been a hallmark of his concert sets since 1999. In said year, he played two entirely different versions of it in successive sets at Brecon, and the recorded experience is comparable, the pianist’s headlong dash in the previously unreleased version drawing whoops and cheers from the Village Vanguard audience.

The latter period of this version of the trio (before Jeff Ballard replaced Rossy in 2004) was less consistent in concert. A shared desire to avoid cliché sometimes robbed the music of its natural flow, but this was never so apparent on record as in live performance, and Volume 5, plus a splendidly delicate new exploration of In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning from 2001, shows how the band matured through playing hundreds of concerts together. Yet it is Volume 3, Songs, that remains the outstanding achievement of the trio, not least for a version of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered that has become one of the all-time classics of trio jazz.

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