Sunday 6 June 2010

Brad Mehldau, Solo Concert, Wigmore Hall, 4 June

Seeing Brad Mehldau around the corner from the Wigmore Hall, he looked distracted, as though he'd gone out for some air and forgotten how to get back to the artists' entrance. Which jazz musician wouldn't feel distracted at the thought of a solo recital in a classical music venue?

Brad began his set with the opener from his new record, Highway Rider - John Boy ("after Johannes Brahms and John Boy Walton"). The piece set the mood for the evening - bubbling left hand patterns, strong melody in the right hand and a restless creativity at work in the improvised sections. Brad and the enormous Steinway filled the stage and, although we were at the back of the gods, we could see and hear everything. The sound that filled the hall was beautiful - rich and subtle, bringing out the full range of ideas Brad worked through in the lower middle and upper registers.

Brad's approach brings together his key musical influences: the many years of piano lessons studying the classical canon and, presumably, German romanticism in particular; the jazz standards he has dedicated much of his professional jazz career to (No Moon At All, Get Happy, How Long Has This Been Going On, My Favourite Things); and his passion for the best in modern pop and rock (Tom Waits' Martha, Jeff Buckley's Dream Brother, Nick Drake's Day Is Done).

He made the most of playing solo in that he was able to take the improvisations where he wanted to go without worrying about leaving the rhythm section behind. My Favourite Things probably went furthest out, using the simple melody to explore some dark and sombre place in the way the Mahler might. Fragments of the melody appeared in odd places, were transformed, transfigured and transmogrified. Completely caught up in what he was doing, slowly rocking back and forth, he seemed to hold nothing back.

I've heard Brad solo on his Tokyo record and have seem him live on quite a few occasions. What I liked about this performance was the heavy pounding of the left hand has been replaced by something altogether lighter and more subtle. As left hands go, it has to be one of the best in jazz. Each hand is separate character with distinct personalities, constantly at play with each other. The articulation is consistently beautiful and clear, as though he has worked hard to eliminate any possible weaknesses in his technique. That said, at no point is the playing flashy or the musical choices kitsch.

Within an hour the set was over. It was clearly not enough for the audience, or for Brad, as we were then treated to six or seven encores (we lost count) and were given almost and hour's more music. And the highlight of the encores was a version Ray Davies' Waterloo Sunset that made the hairs stand on end - summer evening, London, twilight, "Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night". Perfect.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic review, thanks. You are so right about his left hand, seeing him play live really brings that home. Looking forward to 'Highway Rider' at the Barbican now.

John Harris said...

HI Adrian,

Yes, I have tickets. Perhaps I'll see you there!