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Brad Mehldau/Kevin Hays: Modern Music

Michael J. West reviews Brad Mehldau & Kevin Hays' 'Modern Music'

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Modern Music, a lovely duet session by pianists and contemporaries Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, would seem to offer few surprises. It’s a lyrical, harmonically dense album by two players known for their lyricism and harmonic density. In fact, Mehldau and Hays’ synergy here is such that it’s often hard to tell the pianists and contemporaries apart. (Hint: Hays has a lighter touch and natural lilt.) But their collaboration also includes a below-the-title third partner, classical composer/arranger Patrick Zimmerli, whose involvement perhaps explains the record’s curveball-its classical inclination.

Not that the tracks are conservatory standbys; most are Zimmerli originals, with one contribution each by Mehldau (“Unrequited”) and Hays (“Elegia”). The latter aren’t jazzy, though. “Unrequited” employs a Bach-like cadenza and, while it moves into idiosyncratic harmony, it adheres to a stately sonata articulation and rigid time. “Elegia” evokes Satie in its delicacy and atmospherics; though it briefly suggests a looser rhythmic feel, it then doubles down on the classical lockstep.

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