Brad Mehldau Trio: Seymour Reads the Constitution! (Nonesuch)

Review of latest album from pianist Mehldau and his trio of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard

Cover of Brad Mehldau Trio album Seymour Reads the Constitution! on Nonesuch
Cover of Brad Mehldau Trio album Seymour Reads the Constitution! on Nonesuch

You can’t help but marvel at Brad Mehldau’s ability to think in two speeds at the same time. While his left hand frequently holds down an assortment of tricky odd-metered riffs (which he demonstrates a particular fondness for on “Spiral” and “Ten Tune,” two of the three original compositions here), his right hand counters with single-note lines that are clearly rooted in a different time signature and tempo. When engaged in such pianistic tightrope-walking, it helps to have a deeply rooted rhythm section; longtime compadres Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums) provide that, as usual. But it helps even more that Mehldau’s dazzling technique is always backed by elegant melodic logic.

This album’s rapid-fire take on “Almost Like Being in Love” is as good a demonstration of that logic as any. Taking brief snippets from Frederick Loewe’s main theme, Mehldau first lets them dance in seemingly random fashion across octaves, playing light against the beat established by Grenadier and Ballard. Then he gradually strings those fragmented thoughts together, making them coherent, all the while picking up his pace to a point that at times seems superhuman.

Mehldau’s trademark knack for finding suitable pop tunes that postdate the Great American Songbook displays itself yet again. Paul McCartney’s “Great Day,” which first appeared on the ex-Beatle’s 1997 solo album Flaming Pie, seems a strange choice at first, but with Mehldau and Grenadier working in tight tandem, the bluesy melody triggers a rollicking solo section. Even better is Brian Wilson’s easygoing waltz “Friends” (originally recorded on the Beach Boys’ 1968 LP of the same name), which reveals itself in the trio’s hands as worthy of honored-standard status, complete with an infectious extended tag that gives Ballard plenty of space to shine.

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Preview, buy or download Seymour Reads the Constitution! on Amazon.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.