Elan Mehler Quartet Scheme For Thought Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Dazzling new release on Gilles Peterson's own label.

Martin Longley 2007

BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson was reclining in the bar of the apparently quite chic Hotel Therme in Vals, Switzerland, when he first heard the radically calming sound of Brooklyn pianist Elan Mehler. Immediately captivated, Gilles returned for the next two nights. So now, this young player and composer is making his debut on Peterson's own Brownswood label, easily qualifying as its most reclined issuance to date.

Mehler favours a fairly unusual line-up, his own acoustic piano being matched by the electric Fender Rhodes keys of David Moore. Andrew Zimmerman blows throaty tenor saxophone and Tod Hedrick strokes warm bass. They don't have a drummer in the band, so Mehler's pieces automatically dwell over in the chamber jazz nook. This is beautifully calming music, inwardly-routed and pensive, the players circling around each other in a luminescent pool. Notes are carefully enunciated, making slight repeats, returning figures whilst they're mulled over at length. It's a jazz balm...

The two-keyboard dialogue is reminiscent of the various permutations favoured by Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett in the late-1960s outfits of Miles Davis. There's also a softly chiming layer-building that sounds like Steve Reich's "Electric Counterpoint", as performed by Pat Metheny. There's a distinctiveness to the compositions that's difficult to pin down in terms of jazz precedents. The foursome pay great attention to tone and timbre, texture and tingling, as Zimmerman's tenor luxuriates in its own clear space, each soloist leaning forward naturally when their time comes to take leave of the general clinging. The soloing regime is never clear: it's more of an organic flow. Listen to "The Pale 45s", where Zimmerman's thistled tenor cuts to a sudden high Fender Rhodes phrase, with bowed bass underlay, then Mehler enters with a boldly simple melody figure. This may well be the pianist's quartet, but what they make is very much a collective music...

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