IoS jazz review: Brad Mehidau Trio, Barbican Hall, London


Generous, creative – and still groovy after all these years

When I reviewed the Brad Mehldau Trio's UK debut for this paper in 2001, the headline read: "Intense, subtle, eloquent ... but a little airless". This referred to Mehldau's introverted style, interior even by the standards of the late Bill Evans, the pianist he was often compared with. Then aged 30, Mehldau had risen to prominence through recordings for the Warner Bros and Nonesuch labels, where he alternated originals and improvisations on familiar jazz tunes, with startling versions of songs by Nick Drake and Radiohead.

In the years since, Mehldau has not just prevailed, his trio has become the world leader in a jazz scene now thick with them. Almost uniquely for even the most revered of jazz artists, Mehldau still has his record contract, and Nonesuch have nurtured his career with uncommon fidelity, seemingly content to let him record whatever he likes. And, although there's still a strong interiorised quality to his work with the trio (bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard), the Evans comparisons have diminished as he has proved he can swing with the best of them. His muscular, heroic-sounding solos can go on and on without repetition, his unusually ambidextrous style creating independent melodies with either hand.

This rapturously received, sold-out London Jazz Festival concert was meant, according to the Barbican's blurb, to showcase material from the trio's latest album, Where Do You Start, which interprets songs by Drake, Elvis Costello and Sufjan Stevens, together with standards, bossa nova and bebop. Of course, it did nothing of the kind. They opened with "Great Day" by Paul McCartney – a rollicking, percussive groove that served as a feature for Grenadier's long, virtuoso bass solo – then followed it with another Macca number, the Beatles' "And I Love Her". This sweet yet rather soppy song, given a Latin feel that emphasised its debt to "Besame Mucho", which the Beatles used to do in their Cavern Club days, proved a slender thread on which to hang the weight of each player's sequential solo. But give Mehldau a groove to play with, and he's a genius. Take the groove away, though, and that old airlessness can still return. And, as the trio has become more successful, so the leader's democratic willingness to let bass and drums have their say can lead to a rather weary sense of, "Oh no, here come the drums again ...". How many bass solos does a concert need?

A Charlie Parker blues melody, "Cheryl", followed, showing that bebop is a difficult form, even for a group as good as this. Then a torch song, "Since I Fell For You", began thrillingly, for Mehldau is a killer ballad player, before declining into an interminable, plinky-plonk solo coda. The adulation of the audience was beginning to seem more generous than truly earned, and the 7.30pm show would have finished by 8.50pm were it not for the three encores, which added another 40 minutes. But what encores! The highlight was a delicious slow groove that gradually revealed itself as Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years". Here, the component parts of the trio meshed like some perfect clockwork toy. Until Mr Barbican switched the lights on, it looked as if they might keep coming back all night.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before