September 12, 2014
A music explorer, jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau is an experience. To begin with, his body becomes an extension of the piano. Lean and calm, he approaches the piano and plays. No talking, he pauses slightly between pieces, and modestly acknowledging the audience’s recognition—that is, unless you make any noise. I have seen him stop playing until attaining complete silence -- in of all places, a jazz club! Fortunately, the audience in the Harvey Theater at BAM was probably one of the quietest I’ve ever experience in a theater. That’s because most everyone was a super-Mehldau fan. Part of the Nonesuch series at BAM, Mehldau demonstrates this generation’s fluid relationship to all forms of jazz.
Technically commanding, Mehldau employs a classical technique—wrists down, figures curved up making certain each note sounds clear as a bell. Favoring the upper register, Mehldau played a series of pieces that curled in and around chord patterns, repeating intricate scales and single finger tremolos that would cramp anyone else’s hands.
Despite his jazz background, Mehldau’s music stretches into the more experimental range; in fact, he echoed some of the riffs popularized by Philip Glass and Steve Reich (performing the same night at the Bam Opera House). Mehldau improvised around tunes like “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots; a soulful Medley—Zingaro (Jobim), into the stride-light St. Anne’s Reel based on traditional bluegrass fiddle tune and Sufjan Stevens’ “Holland.” Cascading notes are encased in a refined structure that occasionally split into a driving swing in the left had, counterbalanced by a feathery, running right hand.
After a solid 80 minutes of non-stop playing, only once did he pause to wiggle his fingers. Mehldau accepted a standing ovation and played three more encores. His final pieces were lighter in nature, coming closer to the classical jazz and pop realms Mehldau enjoys calling on Harold Arlen’s charming “Get Happy” and Bobby Timmons’ playful “Dish Here.” Adored by the audience, Mehldau holds true to his vision of music as an extension of a larger classical tradition shared by classical and jazz, pop and experimental music sources. An original, Mehldau holds multiple musical threads inside his fingers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis