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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