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Mehliana: Two Players, Many Roads

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana stretch out

Mehliana (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) @ Highline Ballroom, NYC, 1/22/14
Mehliana (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) @ Highline Ballroom, NYC, 1/22/14

Some of the best riffs on Taming the Dragon (Nonesuch), the first album from Mehliana, the electronica-influenced duo of keyboardist Brad Mehldau and drummer Mark Guiliana, are not composed of notes. One, soothingly intoned by Mehldau, appears in “The Dreamer”: “He will forget the music he heard in his dream. Music that made him fly; music that made him escape from his body; music that made him escape from time itself. But he will remember, when he awakens, that there was this music, that there must be music like this somewhere, even if it is only in dreams.” Another, also spoken by Mehldau, comes from the title track: “So you don’t try to kill the dragon. You know, the dragon’s where you get all that voodoo shit from. That’s where you get your power from. You don’t wanna snuff him out; you wanna tame him. You want to actually make friends with him and harness his power so you can use it.” But the music-driving, futuristic grooves brought to life by electric keyboards and intense drumming-is not overshadowed by these passages. Instead, text and sound are accomplices here; they work in tandem to domesticate the beast.

In an official sense, Mehldau and Guiliana have been accomplices since 2011. But their journey dates back to 2008, when the two first jammed together. After checking out a Guiliana-led group that was influenced by electronic music-a precursor to Guiliana’s Beat Music band-Mehldau stopped by the drummer’s New Jersey rehearsal space for a session. A Moog, Korg and Fender Rhodes were waiting for Mehldau and, though Mehldau is best known as an acoustic pianist, Guiliana’s gig was fresh on their minds. “So I had this [keyboard] setup ready, and just kind of gave him a quick little tour of what everything did, and, you know, 15 minutes later, it was like he had been playing this setup his whole life,” remembers Guiliana. “It was incredible.”

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