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January/February 2005

Brad Mehldau
Live in Tokyo
Nonesuch Records

Few pianists can match Brad Mehldau when it comes to cross-fertilizing jazz, classical and rock. The same applies for technique, taste and intellectual curiosity. All of those qualities are on display in Mehldau's latest CD-his second solo disc and the first recording for his new label, the appropriately eclectic Nonesuch.

"Someone to Watch Over Me" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" are mined from the Gershwin songbook, and a nearly three-minute track, "Intro," precedes the former; it's a series of ruminations in the key of A, containing hints of "Someone." When the ballad finally begins, it remains in A, as far as one can get from the tune's original key of E-flat. It is a slow, lovely version, built mostly over a pedal point on the root tone.

"How Long," with its slow stride, is another panegyric to Gershwin. But don't be misled: it's not a funereal medley; much happens in-between, such as a Mach-3 version of "From This Moment On," where Mehldau shows off his incredible fluency, and "Monk's Dream," in which he does not fall into the trap of trying to sound like Monk. Mehldau is too original to copy anybody, and instead he establishes a comfortable groove with clever counterpoint, plays with the rhythm without getting too eccentric, injects plenty of gentle humor into the number and shows his versatility using Monkish boogie-woogie before the dream ends.

As he's done before, Mehldau elevates two non-jazz tunes. One is Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," which doesn't have much of a melody, but Mehldau works up a full head of steam on it before suddenly switching to a Chopin etude mode and then ending with a brief reminder of the rock tune. The other is "River Man" by Nick Drake, the brooding, melancholy British folkie who wrote very much on the dark side. Mehldau wraps Drake's song in a full-bodied, 5/4 treatment.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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