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Bill Charlap & Gary Hobbs at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Italy's loved child: Francesco Cafiso

There’s hardly a better place to spend a summer week than in Perugia, Italy, at the Umbria Jazz Festival. The music was good, natch, but even better was the setting: a medieval hillside city with enough ancient nooks and crannies to make you think you were still walking around in Roman times (donning a soiled toga helped make the fantasy complete). Shows were held in cafes, restaurants and on the street, but also inside the dungeonlike walls of the Rocca Paolina (a partially ruined 16th-century papal fortress) and two stunning opera houses: Teatro Pavone (19th century) and Teatro Morlacchi (18th century).

I saw many hot shows at the Teatro Morlacchi-not just musically but also temperature-wise. This gorgeous, sweaty place is full of more hot air than a government official. One of the best shows at the Morlacchi was by Brad Mehldau’s new-ish trio, with longtime bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard in for Jorge Rossy. No one who saw this show could rely on facile Bill Evans comparisons to describe Mehldau; instead critics needed to create new facile comparisons, like this one I just made up: Imagine Oscar Peterson playing Thelonious Monk without the latter’s rhythmic choppiness but with full knowledge of his idiosyncratic harmonies and melodies. Mehldau spun knotty, extended right-hand lines with amazing precision and speed while his left-hand seemed to go just as fast in the opposite direction. It was strange, difficult, wonderous music.

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