Brad Mehldau – Ode (2012)

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Time away from the studio has apparently given Brad Mehldau time to compose, and this long-awaited new trio studio release is better for it.

Not that the deeply talented pianist doesn’t have a way with a standard, mind you, only that their first studio release in seven years only gains momentum with each new thought. You wonder what one of his typical backslides into another redux moment from Rodgers and Hart or Radiohead would have done to kill the mood. Luckily, as bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard push Mehldau well out of such comfy asides, we never have to find out. All 11 tracks are originals.

While this particular configuration of Mehldau’s trio has been active on performance stages, and was also featured on a live set issued four years ago from the Village Vanguard, they have been far less documented in the studio than was his original group — giving albums like Ode, due on March 20 in North America from Nonesuch, more of the feel of an event. You want to hear not just what they sound like, but what they’ve been thinking, and this record delivers.

From the winkingly rambunctious “M.D.” to the sweetly swinging title track, from the Monkishly offbeat “Dream Sketch” to the skittishly heavy-breathing “Stan the Man,” from the note-perfect sway of “Aquaman” to the twilight reverie of the album-closing “Days of Dilbert Delaney,” Ode moves with power and grace.

Emphasis, perhaps, on power: Mehldau began his career very much in the Bill Evans mode of contemplative piano examinations, but he’s become a much more propulsive player — with some credit, to these ears, going to Grenadier and Ballard. Tracks like “Ode” and “Dream Sketch” offer, sometimes quite literally, a river of ideas — with Mehldau furiously improvising with his right hand while the rest of the rhythm section adds their own perfectly placed asides. Inspired, Mehldau digs further back, past Evans to Lennie Tristano, on “Bee Blues” and unleashes a pounding, very Oscar Peterson-informed intro on “Stan the Man.” There are dark abstractions in “Kurt’s Vibe,” and rhythmic abstractions in “Wyatt’s Eulogy for George Hanson.”

In some ways, Mehldau has never sounded so present, so unhurriedly creative, in the music.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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