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Marian McPartland/Brad Mehldau: Piano Jazz

It is 1996. Brad Mehldau has just turned 26, and has released his debut recording as a leader the previous year. The format here will be second nature to Piano Jazz loyalists. On Marian McPartland’s long-running NPR program, the mutual admiration society between Marian and her guests somehow never cloys. Marian’s graciousness and charm are irresistible. Presumably, she serves tea and crumpets.

McPartland’s questions often provoke interesting insights into an artist’s creative process. After Mehldau has played his first two pieces, “From This Moment On” and his own “Ron’s Place,” McPartland gets him to talk about some of his core concepts: the “voice lead” (with “several voices going at one time”), the implicit rather than stated beat (which requires “keeping the pulse in my head”), and “compositionally compact” thematic development.

McPartland says she loves ballads, and ballads dominate these proceedings. She plays “I See Your Face Before Me” alone, a spare, halting search through the song. She admits trying to cop some of Mehldau’s ideas about harmonic movement on her own solo version of “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” They play a graceful but careful “Stella by Starlight” together. Mehldau’s “When I Fall in Love,” with its twilight harmonies and epilogue of distant displaced tremolos, is the single best reason to buy this CD of an 11-year-old broadcast.

Originally Published