Anything goes. That's the prevailing spirit of improvised music--music made for the glory of the moment, a snapshot in time of multiple minds melding in the name of creativity. In the case of Brad Mehldau's latest offering with his trio, comprised of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy, everything goes: his usual mix of standards and other covers (originals recorded during the same session have been saved for another album). Gone, however, is the Art of the Trio branding, and the literate yet somewhat pontificating liner essays are conspicuously absent. Anything goes, indeed, and Mehldau lets the ten tracks on this disc speak for themselves.
The album kicks off with a nearly ten-minute, odd-metered workout of Harold Arlen's songbook classic, "Get Happy." The trio does exactly this, with Mehldau's left hand in unison with Grenadier's bass and Rossy dancing around the kit in characteristic fashion. Mehldau launches into a solo flight of fancy informed by Keith Jarrett's more rhythmic '70s output. The three of them explore every nook and cranny of the tune. With seamless switching of the melodic voices between Mehldau's hands and Grenadier locking in tightly with Rossy to form a very supportive yet interactive cushion, the trio alternately swings their collective asses off in Monkish fashion and then return to the opening ostinato.
In a great choice of pacing, the next track is Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville." Mehldau's always had a way with a ballad, and he remains rather loyal to the gorgeous melody, enriching it with his unique voicings. Again, Grenadier and Rossy provide tasteful accompaniment. Other ballads in the set include Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and Hoagy Carmichael's ubiquitous "The Nearness of You."
The title track, Cole Porter's enduring classic, is given a classic Mehldau Trio arrangement. Introduced by a loping, lilting piano vamp in 5/4, Mehldau moves into the melody and infuses it with the blues. Larry Grenadier is given a solo spot which showcases why he is one of the premier young bassists on the scene today--he has a full, woody tone and an unerring melodic sense. I've rarely heard the trio get this down and dirty on record; while everything remains precise, there's a fundamental gospel grittiness to Mehldau's playing that he doesn't often channel. It's quite refreshing when he does. T heir cover of Monk's not oft-played "Skippy" reflects the playful spirit of much of Monk's music, yet another side of Brad not usually showcased.
By now, Mehldau is just as famous for his choice of repertoire as he is for his wonderful renderings of it. This album contains two pop covers, which in his hands, sit comfortably beside his deconstructions of standards: Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place." The former is rendered faithfully by the trio; you can very nearly hear the lyric being delivered through Mehldau's piano, and it's as emotional as the original vocal version. It's quite possibly my favorite track on the entire disc. The latter has been played live by the trio for years now, and while on record it doesn't climb to the same intensity (at their gig at Montreal's Spectrum last October, Jorge Rossy unleashed an epic drum solo on it), they still take it on an exciting journey, ranging from introspective dissonance to wiggling in the pocket to Rossy's concluding drum detonations.
The sound of this record, recorded in NYC during October 2002, is outstanding, surpassing by far every other Mehldau recording I've heard. The piano sound, unlike the tinny reproductions of yore, is rich and full of subtlety and nuance, which is Mehldau's stock-in-trade. Rossy's cymbals are clear and crisp, with the wash of ride still retaining definition. Grenadier's bass tone is marvelous--the fastidious task of miking acoustic bass has been done here with great success. In short, Anything Goes stands as one of Brad Mehldau's best works to date.
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