For much of his adventure in music to date, the main thrust of Brad Mehldau’s work has been involved with fostering a bold new sound in the jazz piano-trio format. His new double-disc opus, Highway Rider, the most costly Mehldau production yet, heads in a different set of directions, but with the trio—including longtime allies Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums—sometimes at the core. As in most of Mehldau’s work, which also includes solo piano and art-song projects with classical vocalists Anne Sofie von Otter and Renee Fleming, this latest effort finds Mehldau deftly mixing virtuosity, compositional fluidity and his trademark romanticism-with-an-edge.
This time out, the sonic forces involved casts of many, corralled with the enabling and creatively free-ranging help of producer Jon Brion. Bolstered by creative arrangements for strings, horns (including the French Horn, not incidentally), Highway Rider is a delayed continuation of 2002’s Largo, which Brion also produced. That album served as a kind of swan song for Mehldau’s period in Los Angeles (where he often played at the legendary club Largo).