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Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio, Vol. 2: Live at The Village Vanguard

Brad Mehldau

It will be surprising if Brad Mehldau’s huge talent fails to lead him to something important. His piano playing is getting more elliptical and, at the same time, more rhapsodic. Between those poles, he is searching. The search is fascinating, his music the product of a style under construction. In these two albums made in the last half of 1997, Mehldau departs from the relatively less ambiguous approach of his previous two Warner Bros. trio albums, recordings as a sideman with saxophonists Mark Turner and Joshua Redman, and tracks on the Warner Jams and Christmas Party CDs.

Rather than burning with sustained inspiration, the pianist’s work flashes with brilliance. His imagination and the power of his technique work together (and, occasionally, at odds) to produce passages that teem with Brahmsian chords, contrapuntal urgency, surges of rhythmic energy, and sudden thoughts that may or may not connect to the sudden thoughts that preceded them. Mehldau’s music can be a maelstrom into which it is impossible to see or a storm illuminated by ideas like bolts of lightning. He sometimes takes spareness into pointillism, as in “It’s Alright With Me” on the Vanguard album. Snatches of melody hint at Bud Powell or Bill Evans continuity but never settle all the way into it.

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