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Brad Mehldau Has Done It Again

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

I couldn’t be happier to write about [Brad Mehldau] in the wake of his releasing his new album, [Highway Rider]. It was Mehldau who forever changed the way I thought about jazz music. Mehldau has been considered for some time to be at the forefront of the modern jazz movement (as Nate Chinen has been noting with great fervency at [his blog] last week). His dalliances with a wide variety of genres ranging from indie rock to classical to opera have poised him to become a catch-all ringleader of the current modern jazz movement.

I can recall getting ready to head to school one morning, playing [KRTU] when Aaron Prado chose to play Mehldau’s cover of “Paranoid Android” off his Warner promotional Deregulating Jazz album. From that moment on, I forever changed the way I listened to music. Love of jazz shifted from a more smooth jazz ilk to the modern jazz bent of which I’m most fond today.

Such is the effect of Mehldau, a man capable of [influencing an entire genre of music] for the fifteen years in which he’s been on the scene but still manage to be remarkably modest about it all. A man who manages to constantly innovate, whether it be playing three distinct covers of the same song (the aforementioned “Paranoid Android” solo and sparse in Deregulating Jazz, chaotically jumbled in the Jon Brion-produced Largo, and lengthily cerebral in the solo Live in Tokyo), taking five different albums to explore the Art of the Trio, making each evening he holds court at the Village Vanguard a night to remember, or actually using orchestration as it should be used on his latest album, Highway Rider.

The new collaboration with Jon Brion is less a return to form of their previous project, 2002’s Largo, but moreso a fully fleshing out of Mehldau’s concept album, 2000’s Places. The album is layered, in much the same way that Mehldau uses the ostinato in his left hand to create rhythm to accompany his ever varying right hand in his solo and trio work. In the same way that others have said that Jonny Greenwood composes cacophonous orchestral works so he plays the strings like he plays his guitar, so does Mehldau use the Brion arranged orchestra to create layers to back his tried and true jazz group of himself, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums. Add to the mix Matt Chamberlain who also played drums on Largo and Joshua Redman, with whom Mehldau has worked as a sideman multiple times, and the album has a vibrancy and vitality that is sure to be remembered as a highpoint in Mehldau’s career.

It’s weird to think of one’s own era as a time in which new classics exist but the Mehldau/Brion collaboration that is Highway Rider may be very much akin to the Miles Davis/Gil Evans rapport that produced Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess. It has been [well documented ] that we do not review albums here at Nextbop, so let me enthusiastically recommend you listen to Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider and discern a score for yourself. He has continued to innovate music once again.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].