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Stefan Wood

New ones from the Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau

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It might seem a bid weird at first to compare the two cds that have been recently released. Both are piano trios -- the Bad Plus garnering a lot of attention for their playing and covers of rock tunes; Brad Mehldau for his explorations that have been compared to Bill Evans, but in recent efforts like Places, he has done some terrific sounding works with electonica. I bought both cds recently, and upon first listen, I am not that enthusiastic about either. The Bad Plus cd pumps up all the things that everyone thought was so interesting about the first cd -- meaning loud sounds, lots of pounding drums, and LOTS of riffs. And it makes this cd so less compelling and listenable -- I got tired of the music halfway through, because it sounded like the same stuff over and over again, just with variations. The playing is definitely tighter, but the compositions are weak. Sure, it's cool to hear Black Sabbath as done by a trio, but I don't think they go far enough to play around with the song and make it more than DA-DA---DA-DA-DAAAAAAAAAHHH! It seems they are too much in love with the rhythms of the songs they cover rather than making any new interpretations. The Brad Mehldau cd is also a cd of covers -- standards. And while I think he and his sidemen are fantastic players, I don't think their interpretations are that interesting. Mehldau will do quotes and phrases here and there to remind you of the tune they are doing, then go off in his own direction, but I felt something lacking. Soul? It's hard for me to say. I'm sorry if this sounds like ranting; it isn't, but I found it interesting that two different groups with different approaches to jazz have hit a stumbling block when it comes to presenting a contemporary, "popular" version of a jazz trio. I'd like to hear other thoughts about this.

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I have the first Bad Plus CD but passed on the new one for the same reasons mentioned by Stefan Wood. Louder is not necessarily better.

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I have, and like (but don't love) the first Bad Plus CD. Don't have the new one yet, but probably will try to pick it up sometime, especially if I can get it for cheap on eBay or in some trade. Interesting concept, and one I welcome, even if it doesn't always work 100% of the time.

I have a ton of Brad Mehldau CD's (I think everything he's done as a leader). I really like most of them, but "soul" is definitely NOT something that he has much of. Technique, the man has in spades. Soul, nada. Still, I really do like most of his work, though I'm a little less taken with it than I was a few years ago.

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I agree with Rooster with regards to the first Bad Plus disc, but I probably won't be buying the new one. While "These Are The Vistas" is enjoyable, its not good enough to warrent purchasing the next one.

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Brad has sounded better, both on studio and live dates, Jorge sounds great though, far better than the drummer w/ the "Bad Plus". Brad's next record is supposed to come from the same session that produced this one, all originals next time though. It's not that it's a bad record, just lacking that extra "something", and I've heard better versions of a lot of these standards by a lot of other piano players. I was also a little disap. by his cover of Everything In Its Right Place, which could have been a lot better, though like I said, Jorge is great.

The Bad Plus, well, I'm NOT a fan. They're the flavor of the month right now, but take away all the noise and there's not a lot going on, at least not anything that I want to hear. It's a lot like the worst parts of Stan Kenton's output, loud, ugly, "classically" influenced, but with funny outfits and rock rhythms. The novelty wears off pretty quick, and then all you're left with is a really loud boring "power trio". Not my thing, I'd much rather listen to Brad, or even E.S.T.

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It's a jungle in here........

AND it's a tough crowd. :wacko:

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I haven't heard either of the two new ones and I probably will get the Bad Plus one of these days. I have to say I liked Bad. I haven't really become a fan of Brad.

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I like what I've heard of Brad, although it hasn't been much. I haven't heard Bad at all. Hey, I live in a cave. Now excuse me while I go pound these shirts with some rocks down by the river. (And what the hell is that trailer doing there?)

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The new Mehldau has grown on me. It's--hate to say it--"pleasant." Not stultifyingly pleasant, but there's nothing here that haunts me say, the way the live versions of "Moon River" and "Young and Foolish" from earlier trio records did. As somebody else said, I wish he'd been a bit more daring in his interpretations.

Here's a review from Pitchfork, an online publication that generally covers the indie/alternative scene. I think they reviewed the Mehldau because of the Radiohead cover and because of his associations with Jon Brion & Beck's rhythm section:

Brad Mehldau

Anything Goes

[Warner Bros; 2004]

Rating: 7.8

Jazz has always been as much an interpretive art as a creative one. Its improvisatory approach encourages open-minded musicians to tinker with the mechanics of the tune, to subvert traditional structures, to take a song apart and rearrange it in new ways. So it's not especially revolutionary or avant-garde for a jazz musician to cover modern rock. In fact, it's downright nostalgic, recalling a mid-century moment when similar reinterpretations were de rigueur. Too often, however, such coverage can revert to either easy irony (Lounge Against the Machine, which is hardly jazz but rooted therein) or stuntwork (The Bad Plus, who've recorded versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Iron Man").

On the other hand, Brad Mehldau, a New York pianist influenced by Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi, has made the Radiohead jazz cover his personal calling card; he has reinterpreted two Radiohead songs on previous albums: "Exit Music (For a Film)" on The Art of the Trio, Vol. 4: Back at the Vanguard and "Paranoid Android" on Largo. It's skirting predictability, but it's not schtick: His versions are never ironic or showy, and Mehldau proves resourceful and intuitive in his approach.

On Anything Goes, which consists of ten covers, Mehldau tackles "Everything In Its Right Place", from 2001's Kid A, which seems to counter the musical philosophy encapsulated in the album title. It might seem a curious choice-- either incredibly daring or incredibly stupid. The original emphasizes Thom Yorke's digitized and mutilated vocals over the melody itself, which doesn't seem to incorporate more than three or four notes in a fairly simple rhythm.

But there's something compelling translated into a comparatively bare-bones arrangement. After a bass intro by Larry Grenadier, Mehldau elaborates on the theme thoughtfully, letting the tune spiral out from its center while maintaining the tense tone. What's missing is the original's eerie claustrophobia: In a sense, Mehldau liberates the song from the airless confines of Kid A and takes it for a walk around the park. He makes the song both evocative and cerebral, and it fits perfectly among the nine other reinterpretations.

While the rest of the album lacks the hipster cache of "Everything in Its Right Place", each track is similarly deeply thought out and deeply felt. Mehldau captures the folksy casualness of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and the intimate ruefulness of Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". "Get Happy" takes on a near-manic stride as Jorge Rossy spazzes out on drums, while "Dreamsville" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Nearness of You" flow patiently and pensively, easy and unrushed, as the trio explore their melodies.

Mehldau saves his boldest interpretation for the title song, which of all this album's tracks, strays farthest from its source material. The piano redefines the melody in the first verse, then Grenadier hammers the second verse out on bass, before the trio break it open completely. Cole Porter's original had pluck to match its wit; stripped of the lyrics, Mehldau's version is more inward-looking, a statement of artistic intent rather than a movie-house crowd-pleaser.

It helps that Mehldau co-produced the album, alongside longtime jazz producer Matt Pierson (Miles Davis, Count Basie, Bill Evans). Largo, his previous album, was helmed by Jon Brion, whose SoCal sheen gave the songs a clunky, busy sound and usually had Mehldau chasing his tail up and down the keyboard. Anything Goes has a much more refined sound: just bass, drums, piano, and no fidgety studio tricks to get in the way. The result is a more focused, but no less resourceful, album that finds a place between invention and interpretation, between its everything-in-its-right-place perfectionism and its anything-goes adventurousness.

-Stephen M. Deusner, March 23rd, 2004

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I was thrilled to see Brad going in a different direction with "Largo". I don't think "Largo" is a perfect record, but most of it is pretty damn good.

My problem with Brad (up until "Largo") was that I didn't feel like he was growing as an artist. I know, I'm probably being hyper-critical here (and I certainly don't have any right to be!!! – that's for damn sure).

It's just that Brad has SUCH an AMAZING amount of talent, especially technically. I mean, I would seriously have to list him as being one of the 5 greatest jazz pianists who are under the age of 50. The man can do what he does better than anyone alive today.

But what bugs me is that despite all that talent, there's a certainly sameness to most of his releases. They're all uniformly excellent (top-drawer), but they're mostly all interchangeable too. Plus, he arrived on the scene (or at least on the "big label" scene), fully-formed. He was pretty much as good on his first major label release, as he has been on nearly all of his releases since then. (Not exactly, but close.)

I only mentioned the "soul" thing in my first post in this thread, because the very first post that started this whole thread mentioned it, specifically in reference to Brad. But any way you slice it, Brad lacks soul. That's OK. He does a different thing -- a more "classical" thing, and that's valid -- and I can respect that. He's got chops from here to Mars, and he speaks with an honest and real musical voice, and he's definitely his own man -- which counts for a whole hell of a lot in this day and age. I respect him a ton, musically. But the man doesn't play with a ton of what we call "soul" -- and that's just the way it goes.

Shifting gears for a second... Over the years since Jason Moran came on the scene, I have always felt that Moran was an artist that was struggling to grow and develop. I've always felt like not everything Moran has committed to disc was equally amazing, but I can hear the struggle he has to create fresh, new, and deeply "interesting" music -- even if all of it doesn't work on every level. He's trying new things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't -- but man, he sure as hell tries really hard to say something NEW.

But I don't hear that same passion for pushing to create something really "creative" from Brad. Maybe it's cuz he arrived on the scene fully-developed, and I haven't been able to hear the struggle to push things further and further from him. ("Largo" being the exception, of course.)

I guess I should close by saying that I own every single Brad Mehldau CD he's yet released (expect this latest one of all standards), but as the years have gone on -- I've been less and less inclined to pick up every Mehldau disc on the same day they came out. I know that he's gonna be GREAT, but I also know that he's gonna be pretty much what I expect from him, and the chances are that I won't hear anything really 'new' from him. I love what I hear from him, and he's an amazing artist - but his artistic drive is a little less than I'd really prefer it to be, given the depth of his technical talents.

(Hope that explains things better. This post is primarily in response to Trumpet Guy's post above, just so he doesn't think that I'm doggin' his bro's boss just for the fun of it. Frankly, it's only because I think Mehldau's so god-damn talented, that I have this tiny wish that he'd "push" things more, and more often. I really hope he takes more "Largo"-like chances in the future. They may not all work, but I'd rather have that, than 30 more similar-sounding trio albums, 40 years from now.)

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Shifting gears for a second...  Over the years since Jason Moran came on the scene, I have always felt that Moran was an artist that was struggling to grow and develop.  I've always felt like not everything Moran has committed to disc was equally amazing, but I can hear the struggle he has to create fresh, new, and deeply "interesting" music -- even if all of it doesn't work on every level.  He's trying new things.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't -- but man, he sure as hell tries really hard to say something NEW.

I don't want to turn this into a Jason Moran is better than Brad Mehldau thread -- cuz they're really VERY different kinds of players, and impossible to compare, side by side.

But this quote from Jason's website kinda gets to what I'm talking about...

The Bandwagon enters the studio in May [2004]. Guitarist, Marvin Sewell, ([who's played for] Cassandra Wilson and Jack Dejohnette) will join The Bandwagon. Their thesis is The Blues.

Andrew Hill made different kinds of albums in his years for Blue Note in the 60's. Some slightly more commercial, or at least more "approachable", and some were as 'heady' as they come. Some were very structured ("Black Fire" and Judgment!" come to mind), and some were less structured ("Point of Departure" and "Compulsion" come to mind). Some were downright 'normal' almost ("Grass Roots"), and some were groovy and kinda 'out there' at the same time ("Passing Ships"). And then there's the one with voices ("Lift Every Voice"), and his ever-so-brief "Strata East" period (that one side of the one album from "One For One" - the one with Charles Tolliver, Pat Patrick, and Bennie Maupin) -- which just drips "Strata East" to me. Hill made lot's of different kinds of albums for BN in the 60's.

It appears that Jason is trying this approach too, having a different focus for each album (or 'thesis' as he calls it, in the quote above).

And mind-bogglingly amazing as nearly all of Brad Mehldau's albums are (and I like them all), they nearly all have the same basic concept behind them. Sure, there's a solo piano album (which I LOVE), and there's one disc that alternates between trio tunes, and solo tunes. And there's "Largo" - which is the one time he's done something different. But other than that, what, there's like 7 or 8 discs of trio recordings that are all pretty darn similar.

The man needs to have some concept albums. He needs to take it to another level. He's got 90% of what I look for in artists -- in terms of artistic integrity, compositional skills, arranging skills, chops, you name it. He just needs that extra 10% -- to really tie it all up, and put himself up a notch in my book. He's almost there. Come on, Brad. I wouldn't bitch about you so much, if I didn't think you could do it!!!

Also, Brad's obviously a fan of Radiohead, since he's covered at least three of their tunes (Exit Music, Paranoid Android, and I know I've seen another one listed on some bootlegs). Brad could learn a thing or two from them. Sure, most of Radiohead's albums after "OK Computer" weren't as conventionally great. BUT, I gotta respect the hell out of them for taking chances, and for NOT trying to do sequel after sequel to "OK Computer".

Their latest "Hail To The Theif" seems to take the best of what they learned making "OK Computer", along with their more experimental "Kid A" and "Kid B" ("Kid B" is better known as "Amnesiac"), and synthesizing the two concepts. Bravo!!!

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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Brad needs to stretch some is all I'm saying. Shit, maybe I should have just said that in the first place, and left it at that. :P

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I have a number of Mehldau discs, and enjoy the "Art of the Trio"ones the most. Perhaps they are safe in some sense. I haven't heard Largo at all, am still getting into Elegiac Cycle, and haven't been grabbed by Places.

Suppose (for a moment) that Keith Jarrett decided only to record the Standards Trio material [eg Whisper Not, Up For It, Tokyo '96 etc.]. Would there be similar complaints about Keith not stretching out enough? (I enjoy many of the Jarrett standard trio recordings--still growing into non-standard Keith)

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I will only buy it if it has ridiculous liner notes.

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I will only buy it if it has ridiculous liner notes.

Brad kicks everyone's ass in that department.

Anybody know where he went to college?? People normally don't write like that unless they've been all edumacated and stuff. (And I don't necessarily mean that in a good way.)

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I have a ton of Brad Mehldau CD's (I think everything he's done as a leader). I really like most of them, but "soul" is definitely NOT something that he has much of. Technique, the man has in spades. Soul, nada.

I don't think this is true. Of course, it depends what you mean by soul: soul (as in expression of self that reaches out to the listener) or Soul (as in a genre of music, or possibly an overarching term for certain characteristics of Black American Music).

Mehldau may not be the greatest hardbop/soulful player, but he can play in that style competently. I recently came across an album, MTB "Consenting Adults", a quintet with Mark Turner and Peter Bernstein (hence the title), Grenadier and Leon Parker. Mehldau plays in a more bop style their and is often litterally unrecognisable (in a good way).

Both times I've seen him live, he's had one bluesier song that reminded me of Ray Charles.

And the way he played River Man the last time I saw him... if that isn't soul, I don't know what is. Not Soul soul, but soul nonetheless. He also played Radiohead's Knives Out at that concert.

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What is the deal with everyone covering Radiohead tunes? Last year classical pianist Christopher O'Reilly cut a whole disc's worth.

true-love-waits-cd-by-Christopher-o-riley-2003.jpg

I mean, I really dig some of what they are doing, but there seems to be a great deal of other current pop works begging to be covered...

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true-love-waits-cd-by-Christopher-o-riley-2003.jpg

That's quite a nice album.

What other current pop do you think is begging to be covered? And to be fair, Mehldau started (or at least popularised) the Radiohead cover, AFAIK.

French trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo has recently put out "Wonderland," which gives semi-orchestral, acoustic readings of Stevie Wonder tunes. Not contemporary pop, but a nice enough album.

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FWIW Joel Frahm used to be regular poster at the Jazz Corner BBS under the screen name "saxnova". Frahm is a tenor sax. player who has several albums under his own names on the Palmetto label and has toured extensively with Jane Monheit.

Anyway, apparently Frahm and Mehldau go back a long way - they have known each other since they were teenagers. Moreover, Frahm's latest album is a duet album with Mehldau on the Palmetto label: "Don't Explain".

So obviously Frahm is very well acquainted with Mehldau.

I remember Frahm posting on the Jazz Corner BBS about Mehldau and indicating that in his early days of playing on the jazz scene Mehldau played in a swinging hard bop mode. Frahm compared Mehldau's style at that point to Wynton Kelly and opined that Mehldau sounded great playing in that style. He went on to state that while he certainly understood why Mehldau's playing evolved in the way it did, he kind of missed that swinging, hard bop Mehldau of old. Frahm himself is a great defender of continuing to play in the old style hard bop mode and thinks there is plent of room for creative expression in playing in older styles of jazz.

I just thought these little second hand anecdotes might be of interest in this discussion of whether or not Mehldau plays with "soul".

ADR

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Moreover, Frahm's latest album is a duet album with Mehldau on the Palmetto label: "Don't Explain".

A very good album.

I just thought these little second hand anecdotes might be of interest in this discussion of whether or not Mehldau plays with "soul".

Which is why I brought up the MTB album, in which you can hear Mehldau's hardbop mode. But with or without the hardbop, I think he has plenty of soul.

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Maybe Rooster just chose a bad word... Mehldau (HOW THE FUCK DO YOU SPELL HIS NAME! I've typed it three times now. I'm leaving it...) doesn't have a strut, per se, or a stride.

I'm listening to Alexander's Blindfold Test now, which is all piano tunes, contains a Mehldau trio Blackbird, and a wide variety of swinging trios. Great mix by the way Alexander! Thank you!

The art of the trio, hate to say it, doesn't rest entirely in the hands of the pianist. The Mehldau trio sounds the way it does because that is a music they probably feel deserves more exploration. They tend to pan out on a tune until the shot is so wide there is no focus but the horizon.

Of course the man has soul. He wouldn't have chosen the life of a pianist if he didn't!

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re: Radiohead

Seems to me they were on a great creative run until KID A. Each album sounded almost entirely different. As far as sequels go, KID A, Amnesiac, and Hail To The Thief sound like a trilogy to me. I like all of them, but the first four albums sounded so different from each other that Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief were a bit of a non-surprise.

The band is way to criticized. I don't know how actors, painters, musicians, writers go on with such scrutiny.

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I pulled this thread up on a search for more information on LARGO. I heard a track on the radio the other night that really hit me pretty hard. I had no idea who it was until the dj announced that it was a cut from Brad (still can't spell his last name, where does the h go)'s LARGO. Sounded really gritty, to me.

On a tangent, I read that the same guy that arranged the aforementioned Radiohead covers album is doing a similar project with the songs of Elliott Smith.

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I will only buy it if it has ridiculous liner notes.

Brad kicks everyone's ass in that department.

Anybody know where he went to college?? People normally don't write like that unless they've been all edumacated and stuff. (And I don't necessarily mean that in a good way.)

So where did Mehldau go to College??? Somebody here has to know.

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