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Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio Recordings: 1996-2001

Thomas Conrad reviews Brad Mehldau's 'The Art of the Trio' collection

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Brad Mehldau released five Art of the Trio volumes with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy between 1997 and 2001. Three were recorded live at the Village Vanguard. The fifth volume contained two CDs. This box set collects them all, and adds a seventh CD of previously unreleased music from the Vanguard. There is a long liner-note essay by Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus. It contains insights that could only be provided by another jazz pianist who came up in the Mehldau Era, which is what, in jazz-piano-trio terms, the late 1990s can legitimately be called.

Volume 1 is, looking back, almost tame. The opening track, “Blame It on My Youth” (Mehldau is 26), is an ethereal ballad, straightforward compared to what would come later. Yet its pensive emotion is authentic. (Mehldau’s solo was nominated for a Grammy in 1998.) Much of what would make this trio famous is present on Volume 1 in embryonic form: the indeterminate atmosphere as Grenadier and Rossy float the music free from time and, as Iverson says, “let the beats take care of themselves”; the standards in odd meters (“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”); the rock covers (the hippest “Blackbird” on record); the literate originals (“Ron’s Place”). Most evident, of course, is a piano player whose extraordinary harmonic and rhythmic acuity elucidated a vision that was already personal.

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