Brad Mehldau is often compared to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett in both style and format, but Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 shows him to be very much his own man. The double-disc live session features his working trio since 1994 of Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jorge Rossy (drums) on a range of material that spans jazz, pop, folk-rock, and original music. The group’s uncanny ability to stretch forms and slip into and out of different songs recall the telepathic excursions of Miles Davis’ great rhythm section of the mid-to-late sixties. The material here is of top-notch quality, but it is the utterly unique treatments of each composition that makes Progression a must-hear.
The opener, “The More I See You,” swings brightly with bristling solos bookended by straightforward statements of the melody. The band moves into a vamp based on a three chord groove, leading seamlessly into “Dream’s Monk,” a boppish tribute to Thelonious Monk, eventually returning to the vamp and then back to “The More I See You.” The quickness with which Grenadier picks up on Mehldau’s whims is absolutely astonishing. “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” is a beautiful, slow ballad that is both engaging and sparse, with solid support from the bass and drums.
As if the Deitz/Schwartz favorite “Alone Together” was not already complex enough (14-bar A sections, 8-bar bridge, 8-bar closing section), Mehldau and company add the challenge of a 7/4 time signature and a hyper-caffeinated tempo. Without ever abandoning the melody, the group holds onto this number for around 13 minutes before moving into another cooking vamp section. Without warning, the trio slips casually into “It Might as Well Be Spring” for a couple of minutes before wrapping this one up. Mehldau’s mellow exploration of the 1950s classic “Cry Me a River” includes an interesting take on stride piano with some very subtle support from the others. The first disc ends with one of the album’s highlights, a simmer-to-burn rendition of British folk-rocker Nick Drake’s “River Man.” Mehldau gives a truly memorable, passionate piano solo while Rossy delivers the perfect textures at all the right moments.
Disc two opens with an introspective Mehldau original called “Quit,” featuring telepathic rhythm section communication under Mehldau’s virtuosic ruminations and arpeggios. The group then tackles “Secret Love,” a jam-session favorite, cast here as a slow, sparse ballad with some solo piano wanderings and a lush pedal section that wax classical. The mood is lightened on “Sublation,” a hard-swinging bitonal blues with notable solos from Grenadier and Mehldau. You try to figure out what key they’re in. The tune ends in a reverse of the vamp figure from the beginning of the first disc, sprinkled with Rossy’s colorful cymbal work and thumping kick drum. “Resignation” is Mehldau’s melancholy but intense 7/4 bossa nova from his solo piano album Elegiac Cycle. This version is kicked along by Grenadier’s shifting, grooving bass and Rossy’s flawless timekeeping. “Long Ago and Far Away,” a Gershwin/Jerome Kern nugget, begins with some hand-independence wizardry from Mehldau. Grenadier’s bass solo on this track is a model of thematic development and stands as his best on the album. Not to be outdone, Mehldau follows with a solo of startling harmonic and rhythmic complexity before allowing Rossy some relatively brief solo statements and returning to the theme. The closer, an extremely relaxed, moving treatment of the Gershwin chestnut “How Long Has This Been Going On,” belongs mostly to Mehldau, leaving the audience stunned and then yelling for more. My own reaction was no different.
Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5
(Warner Bros., 2001)
Brad Mehldau (piano)
Larry Grenadier (bass)
Jorge Rossy (drums)
1) The More I See You (Live) 10:07
2) Dream's Monk (Live) 11:21
3) Folks Who Live On The Hill 9:51
4) Alone Together (Live) 15:01
5) It Might As Well Be Spring 2:51
6) Cry Me A River (Live) 8:51
7) River Man (Live) 11:31
1) Quit (Live) 7:14
2) Secret Love (Live) 10:09
3) Sublation (Live) 14:58
4) Resignation (Live) 8:39
5) Long Ago and Far Away (Live) 14:50
6) How Long Has This Been Going On (Live) 10:46