This is a cumulative review of the nine trio albums recorded by Brad Mehldau (piano) with Larry Grenadier (double-bass) and Jorge Rossy (drums) between 1995-2005 and released under the Warner and Nonesuch labels. These are very special CDs to me (and I guess to many other jazz lovers). I keep going back to them when I want to hear some exceptional contemporary jazz. So I want to give a hopefully useful big picture to anyone new to Brad Mehldau willing to discover his first trio and start a collection.
Introducing Brad Mehldau (recorded March and April 1995), featuring Christina McBride (double-bass) and Brian Blade (drums) in the last three tracks, is a wonderful introduction to the young Mehldau, contributing with four inspired and fresh original compositions that have absolutely no problems next to the five well known standards. Brad personal style is yet to fully develop, anyway lyrical conceptions, tremendous improvisations and perfect technique are already there! Five stars.
Art of the Trio Volume 1 (recorded September 1996) is the first work where the distinctiveness of the Mehldau trio are presented: jazz standards, well known pop-rock songs and original compositions perfectly blended, mesmerizing harmony and interactions between the three musicians, seducing improvisations exploring harmonies and rhythms. Five stars.
Art of the Trio Volume 2 (recorded live at the Village Vanguard July-August 1997) is an all standards session where the trio totally unleashes its improvising potential, giving fresh and passionate renditions of never-heard-in-this-way renowned compositions. Five stars.
Art of the Trio Volume 3 (recorded May 1998) set a mellower and more introspective tone, moving between original compositions, standards and extraordinary readings of Radiohead and Nick Drake songs. Possibly the most romantic and leisurely recording of the Mehldau trio. Five stars plus!
Art of the Trio Volume 4 (recorded live at the Village Vanguard January 1999) combines the great energy and freshness of Vol. 2 with the lyrical intimacy of Vol. 3, with the trademark perfect combinations of original compositions, well-known standards and Radiohead for the great finale. Five stars plus!
Places (recorded January and March 2000) departs from the previous formulas, offering only original compositions with 7 of the 13 tracks featuring solo piano. The mood is in many ways similar to Vol. 3, however melancholy seems to prevail over romanticism. The work of the two hands on the piano keyboard is equally beautiful in the trio and solo pieces, anyway when the piano is alone there are absolutely moving interactions between the left and right, producing highly lyrical atmospheres. Five stars plus!
Art of the Trio Volume 5 (recorded live at the Village Vanguard September 2000), a 2-CD set basically offers the same moods of Vol. 4 in a more extended and complete format. Swing and introspection, songs and jazz compositions, up-tempo pieces and ballads are beautifully mixed for this highly entertaining testimony of the evenings at the Village Vanguard with the Mehldau trio. Five stars.
Anything Goes (recorded October 2002) is an all standards album, needless to say masterly played by the trio. Their empathy is at the top, their personal style fully developed and instantly recognizable. A great pleasure to hear these passionate interpretations of never-heard-in-this-way famous compositions. Five stars.
House on Hill (recorded October 2002 plus two tracks recorded March 2005) is the last release from this Mehldau trio, as drummer Jeff Ballard has afterward taken the place of Jorge Rossy. All original compositions by Mehldau, as in the 2002 recording Places, whose melodies are in some way recalled from a different and brighter perspective. Moods float between introspection and cheerfulness, meditation and enticement. Five stars.
To be honest, however much I like piano trio music in general and how much I try to get on top of Brad Mehldau's music his music fails "to reach parts that other piano trios can"! Seriously I have tried. This is the only album that I've purchased, but have listened through other media. Certainly this album from 1996 shows his ability as a pianist and improvising musician, and he cannot be faulted on that score. A few tracks certainly attract one's attention, but overall it misses the target with me. So I cannot give it a five star grading, but recognise certain qualities that show it to be a CD of quality that others may enjoy more than me.