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Brad Mehldau – Largo

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So I was in Borders looking for a book I was going to review for Blogcritics which should have been on a shelf near the music section. They’re playing their standard light jazz, when my ear perks up. I know that song… It turns out that it was none other than Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” off of my all-time favorite album OK Computer. I immediately forget about the book and rush to the counter to find out what CD they’re playing.

Well, it turns out it’s a new release by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. I was a band geek in high school and played in the jazz band, so I’ve always liked jazz, but never listened much. I went on a little Miles Davis kick earlier this year, but that’s about as far as I’ve gone. I figured I’d give this CD a shot. For some reason, that particular Borders didn’t have the disc, but after hitting a couple other stores, I was able to track down a copy, and immediately stuck it in my CD player for the drive home, fast forwarding to Paranoid Android on track 5.

If you’ve heard OK Computer, you know that this song starts out a bit quiet. Brad plays the melody quietly on the piano while a percussionist brushes a snare drum. I’m enjoying it, until this thought occurs to me: Good god, I’ve just willingly purchased Elevator Music.

Obviously I had forgotten where that song goes… After the melodic opening, the percussion changes from the brushed snare drum to a cacophonous beating on what might be tin pans. Brad opens up on piano and wails through the second movement of the piece. That winds down and Brad is left alone on the piano again. This third movement is pastoral, an almost classical sounding piano piece. It winds down to the end of the song where it breaks open again for the wild final riffs. Excellent, excellent.

That song was about as perfect an introduction to the rest of the album as there could be. I rewound to listen to the rest, and he’s all over the place. The piano is central, but other tracks are driving piano augmented by some light horns (“Franklin Avenue” for example), almost metal sounding distorted piano on “Sabbath” (not my favorite, but interesting), and the very light and familiar sounding opening track “When It Rains”.

On the more experimental side of the album is the fast and chaotic “Free Willy”. A speedy free-form drum beat plays while Brad on piano and Larry Grenadier on bass trade fast riffs. “Alvarado” is a bit free-form as well, featuring almost tribal sounding percussion and a rolling piano melody, sometimes dissonant piano melody. Like the opening track, Alvarado plays around a melody that I’m sure I’ve heard before, but just can’t place. Both are originals, though.

I’ve never really listened to much of The Beatles, so I don’t really recognize the two Beatles interpretations “Dear Prudence” and “Mother Nature’s Son”, but they work well with the rest of the album.

I’ve made impulse buys of albums because they were or included re-interpretations of music I otherwise liked, and I’ve almost always been disappointed. (The techno version of Dark Side of the Moon by Out of Phase springs immediately to mind. Ugh.) I am not in the least disappointed with this purchase.

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