Brad Mehldau’s first trio recording for Nonesuch is also his first without Jorge Rossy at the drums. Jeff Ballard, Rossy’s replacement, is far from a stranger to Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier, and it isn’t surprising that a drummer this brilliant should take to the trio like a fish to water. But that’s not to say that Day Is Done lacks surprises.
The pianist gives us two new originals: “Artis,” an uptempo swinger, and “Turtle Town,” a lyrical bolero. But Mehldau continues to emphasize his personal take on the modern songbook, with new interpretations of his reigning favorites: Radiohead, Lennon and McCartney, Nick Drake and Paul Simon. With “Granada” he champions the writing of one of his most gifted peers, saxophonist Chris Cheek. With a short but scintillating “Alfie” he reasserts himself as an eloquent, unfussy ballad player. And with “No Moon at All,” a lesser-known standard, he goes out swinging. Note: If you plan to buy the album, go digital. The iTunes version includes two must-hear bonus tracks: “Viver de Amor,” a Toninho Horta gem, and “You Do Something to Me,” played fast, with a devious modulation (and, far more devious, a dropped measure) in the last eight bars of the form.