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Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5

This is the third time pianist Brad Mehldau has returned to the Village Vanguard in the course of his Art of the Trio cycle, here for a two-disc set. Bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy again divide their accompanist duties with equal flair, and Mehldau, always an extremely centered pianist, gives evidence of artistic growth that presumably flows from his decision to concentrate on solo playing during 1999 and early 2000.

Mehldau’s art is not based on negotiating his way through a harmonic sequence with a string of bravura licks and a feel-good factor that seems so appealing to fans and critics. Instead he patiently weaves melodic developments from motifs, fragments and inversions of the famous songs he plays into the fabric of his extemporizations, making the tunes gradually assume the proportions of an alternative composition. His playing is the study of musical relationships, and the starting points on Progression are substantive melodies in their own right: “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” “Long Ago and Far Away” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

Mehldau is gradually living down the hyperbole that surrounded his early recordings, and he has exceeded expectations to become a significant musician. You only have to listen to his extended fantasia on “Long Ago and Far Away” to realize this, as he patiently reveals new ways of looking at a familiar composition without slippage in either logic or inspiration.

Originally Published