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Disc review: Brad Mehldau, 10 Years Solo Live

Jazz

Brad Mehldau

“10 Years Solo Live”

[Nonesuch]

Four Stars

If you want to know just how far the hipster pendulum has swung back to vinyl from lowly, convenient, prosaic CD’s, consider the case of this box set.

It occupies four CDs. But it was released first on eight hunks of old-fashioned, newly beloved vinyl.

In its 300 minutes, it’s a stupendous collection of a decade of solo piano performances by Brad Mehldau all across Europe that proves that with the death of Michel Petrucciani, Mehldau is the only solo jazz pianist who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Keith Jarrett. That’s especially true when you’re talking about solo piano performances that represent 10 years of Mehldau’s European concertizing from London to Budapest with most major stops between (Leipzig, Brussels, Luxembourg, Salzburg, Rome, Copenhagen, Paris, Bilbao).

When Mehldau began writing liner notes for his “Art of the Trio” series, he revealed a contemporary intellectual’s frame of reference different not only in degree, but in kind from what we expect from jazz pianists.

It’s a brilliance that bursts with paradoxical visceral impact out of his music here. Here is a pianist happy to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Luxembourg, “On the Street Where You Live” in Copenhagen, “Get Happy” in Salzburg, “Monk’s Mood” in London, Brahms Intermezzi in Bilbao and Wels and Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” in Vienna.

His own compositions, free form and otherwise, are just as stunning as his versions of classics and standards.

“I have tried to tell a story from beginning to end the way I’ve sequenced it,” says Mehldau.

Whether playing the Beatles’ “Blackbird” or Jeff Buckley’s “Dream Brother” or pieces of his own, Mehldau says “it is actually strange this whole issue of performance. It is a direct, intense kind of empathy with a group of total strangers that lasts about 90 minutes. And then it’s over and everyone goes home. I go back to a hotel room and go to bed. Something happened but what was most vital about it can’t really be put into words. It is sweet, kind of bittersweet. In any case, it is not enough to say that the difference audiences were important for the creation of this music. They were absolutely necessary, they were pivotal. Without those audiences, this music would not exist in the way it does.”

That is neither B.S. nor bravado nor pseudo-Jarrett hyperbole. You can, in the magnificent variety of approach in almost every track, hear, in living, breathing music, everything he’s talking about.

– Jeff Simon

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