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Field Notes: Brad Mehldau Solo

Pop covers abound at this sold-out solo set at D.C.’s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Brad Mehldau

The pianist and composer Brad Mehldau is 41, and starting to traverse an odd and difficult plateau for a jazz musician. Middle age can in jazz be a sort of gray area, even a purgatory. You’re too old to reap the rewards of precociousness-Mehldau did that in his 20s and early 30s, as a torch-carrier for the harmonic invention, deep lyricism and empathetic bandleading associated with Bill Evans-but you can’t yet receive the awards and genuflection reserved for old lions. So you keep touring and recording and doing what you do to diminished fanfare.

Today’s twentysomething piano hopefuls should be so lucky to achieve what Mehldau has at his age; his piano trio has been one of jazz’s very best, not to mention his work with comrades like Jon Brion, Kevin Hays and Renée Fleming. But as a recent sold-out performance in D.C. attested, Mehldau is working another angle that has little to do with jazz from a cultural standpoint (and that’s probably why it’s doing so well for him). He’s an update of that endangered 20th-century species that packed concert halls and appeared on late-night television and sold vinyl by the pound: He’s a popular, accessible concert pianist.

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