Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Opera North’s programme at the Howard Assembly Room continues to offer high-quality performances in jazz no less than in chamber music, vocal recitals and world music. The concert by the Brad Mehldau Trio was highly impressive, gathering momentum as the evening progressed, but not quite what was promised.
As often these days, the concert was billed as featuring numbers from the trio’s latest album. Blues and Ballads includes versions of great standards and jazz classics, but the trio has moved on since that recording and the main concert consisted entirely of originals, many of them so new they didn’t even have titles. Melody was in short supply.
The opening blues began with what sounded like a re-chorded version of Green Dolphin Street and continued to be exploratory in tone. Superb solos by long-term Mehldau associates, Larry Grenadier on bass and drummer Jeff Ballard, enlivened the intense 18 minutes of this unnamed opener.
In the second number, Mehldau’s fondness for repeated fragments of melody often led to the establishment of something like a ground bass while the splendidly inventive bass and drums tended to tell their own stories. A waltz, also unnamed, only the third number, but well over half an hour into the programme, provided a nicely melodic start before building with increased passion.
A more established original, Strange Gift, with a sort of Middle Eastern/North African flavour, showed the trio to great advantage, with Grenadier’s bass carrying the melody and Ballard’s one stick-one hand drumming establishing atmosphere. The following number, however, was the drummer’s great showpiece, masterly technique and constant invention over repeated piano phrases.
The concert ended with a fine ballad that stayed cool to the end, with Mehldau’s extended coda reflecting a classical etude. And then for the encore, we had a great standard, No Moon at All, with Mehldau swinging nonchalantly into the melody and both he and Grenadier crafting beautifully judged improvised solos.
This is a superb trio, but there was an issue of programming here. Presenting us with items of work in progress is certainly welcome; allowing them to dominate the programme less so. Brad Mehldau’s accomplishments in different styles are highly impressive, but sometimes it’s all a bit too restive. Hearing the trio work their magic on, say, Since I Fell for You from Blues and Ballads would have made for a better-balanced concert.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed