When the novel coronavirus pandemic swept Europe, Brad Mehldau and his family sheltered in place at his home in the Netherlands. A month of lockdown later, he had watched the virus ravage the world, killing hundreds of thousands and putting thousands of his colleagues out of work as concerts and club dates were canceled and tours were postponed until … well, until who knew (or in fact, three months later, knows) when. At this point, many musicians took to social media platforms and online concerts to stay sharp. Mehldau composed a suite, April 2020, which he recorded in a solo piano setting for Nonesuch and released in special-edition signed vinyl copies, with proceeds going to the COVID-19 Musicians Fund.
The suite is a 12-part, 31-minute work that offers mostly muted, introspective music. It is perhaps a reflection of his place of shelter; had he been in America, it’s likely that he might have raged more at the incompetence of political leaders. Titles like “Waking Up,” “Stepping Outside,” and “The Day Moves By” suggest a narrative movement through the sense of confusion of this moment. Others like “Keeping Distance,” “Remembering Before All This,” and “Yearning” reflect the specifics of the crisis. The plaintive, wary mood is broken by soulful overtones of “Family Harmony.” To round out the recording, Mehldau included three covers, Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” and the Jerome Kern/B.G. DeSylva chestnut “Look for the Silver Lining,” each putting a hopeful coda on music that in its own subdued way captures the dismay, horror, and uneasy trust of life during this cataclysm.