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Listening Post: New Piano Trio Music by Brad Mehldau and a disc of Marian McPartland, the Composer

JAZZ

Brad Mehldau, “Blues and Ballads” (Nonesuch). It’s absolutely astonishing what a crashing bore much of this is. Mehldau is the great jazz pianist of his generation. And his piano trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard is the greatest such group since Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio. At least when Jarrett recorded the solo piano “The Melody Alone At Night With You” he had the excuse that he was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. An entire disc of soporific-tempoed “Blues and Ballads” wasn’t much of an idea to begin with – not played like this it wasn’t. And when you have the stunning lack of imagination exhibited so often here, you can’t help but be more than disappointed. Even in the opening “Since I Fell For You,” Mehldau’s Gene Harris blues tremolos sound utterly phony and so does the pseudo-ecstatic coda that arrives at the end of the tune. When even Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” has some trouble arousing everyone from the weeds, you know you’re in trouble. There is, to be frank, some good Mehldau playing on this disc. He’s just too talented to crash and burn completely on a record. But if the zombies on TV’s “The Walking Dead” had a favorite recent jazz piano trio record, this would be it. Two stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)

Roberta Piket, “One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland” (Thirteenth Note). Among the greatest successes of W. D. Hassett’s Downtown Room in the Statler Hilton was the sudden development of a very large and almost instant claque of fanatics for the great pianist Marian McPartland. Buffalo audiences, somewhat unpredictably, came to love her almost overnight and without moderation. This was a wonderful idea by young jazz pianist Roberta Piket – a sextet tribute to McPartland as a jazz composer. If she wasn’t a great jazz composer the way Mary Lou Williams was, she was certainly a strong one whose virtues were those of her much-loved and indelible playing. Says Piket “Marian always felt regretful that her tunes weren’t played more. She felt a little unrecognized in that regard. She wrote so many great tunes.” Piket’s group is ready to do yeoman work for the cause here, including alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew and Harvie S. on bass. When you hear “Twilight World” whose Johnny Mercer lyrics are sung by sublime guest artist Karrin Allyson, the whole disc briefly rises another notch entirely in endeavor. It’s just a duet between Allyson and Piket with the idea coming from producer Todd Barkan – a very wise man, indeed, on the premises. It’s a near-classic duet. Three and half stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)