Brad Mehldau Trio
Released February 2004
The Guardian Five-Star Review
Anything Goes was recorded on a two day session in September of 2002. Two records came out of the date, one of all originals, the other of standards and covers. ‘Anything Goes’ is the latter. Mehldau returned to the studio with his longstanding trio with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums. The trio teams up with two other old colleagues as well here: Matt Pierson, who initially signed Mehldau to Warner Brothers and produced several of the earlier trio records, and James Farber, the renowned recording engineer who also recorded several of the trio records.
Mehldau says, “On this one I was thinking a little about what we got to on ‘Songs’ as a starting point: Focusing more on a beautiful sonic experience, honing in on a singular interpretation of the material, trying to nail the sentiment of the songs in my view, and what the other guys bring to them. The songs don’t stretch out as much as you’ll find on the live records; the emotion is more compressed and hopefully more direct. Another thing about this record that I like is that it has a certain relaxed quality in the trio’s ensemble playing rhythmically that we hadn’t achieved before. I’m really proud of this one.” The title of the record Anything Goes comes from the Cole Porter tune, heard here in a characteristic lopey 5/4 feel. It’s also an appropriate sentiment for the wide range of tunes in this collection. There’s a rousing version of the more obscure ‘Skippy’ from Thelonious Monk. Three ballads are spread throughout the record, heard in condensed, heartfelt interpretations, like the wistful take on Lerner and Lowe’s classic from ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’. The trio’s version of Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ has all the nostalgia and sweetness the lyric conveys, but Mehldau discovers a layer of trouble and darkness beneath the song in his short but intense so. Radiohead’s ‘Everything in It’s Right Place’ finds the trio in its meditative mode. Here, Grenadier establishes a hypnotic low end to the sonic texture that sets the course for the entire tune, never wavering.
1. Get Happy (Harold Arlen / Ted Koehler) 9:47
2. Dreamsville (Jay Livingston / Henry Mancini) 5:03
3. Anything Goes (Cole Porter) 7:08
4. Tres Palabras (Osvaldo Farrés) 5:01
5. Skippy (Thelonious Monk) 5:24
6. Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael / Ned Washington) 6:43
7. Still Crazy After All These Years (Paul Simon) 5:21
8. Everything in Its Right Place (Colin Greenwood) 6:55
9. Smile (Charlie Chaplin / Geoffrey Parsons) 6:48
10. I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face (Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe) 4:49
Brad Mehldau: piano
Larry Grenadier: bass
Jorge Rossy: drums
Recorded October 8 – 9, 2002, at Avatar Recording Studios, New York City
Produced by Brad Mehldau and Matt Pierson
Recorded and mixed by James Farber
Assistant Recording Engineers: Aya Takemura & Steve Mazur
Production Coordinator: Dana Watson
Mastered by Greg Calibi at Sterling Sound, NYC
Art Direction and Design: Lawrence Azerrad Design
Photography: Warren Darius Aftahi
Maybe there are pockets of resistance to the appeal of Brad Mehldau here and there – straightahead jazz listeners for whom his harmonic distortions of much-loved songs occasion a twinge in the teeth, or classical listeners who reckon a Broadway tune is just a Broadway tune however fancy you get with it. Or perhaps Radiohead buffs who think Mehldau’s visits to the repertoire are taking liberties with sacred texts.
But it’s hard to imagine anybody trying to listen to essences rather than agendas failing to pick up the magic in Mehldau. This disc, the latest in an uncompromisingly stripped-down series of acoustic piano-trio sessions he commenced for Warners in the mid-1990s, features his regular trio with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jorge Rossy (drums). As before, it’s a mix of standards, quirkily personal choices and a Radiohead theme, but Anything Goes is likely to rank very high in the Mehldau trio list.
The pianist specialises in making his familiar choices sound like new songs – an axiomatic practice in jazz, but operated here with a fearless focus. Mehldau kicks in by introducing Get Happy with a lazy left-hand pattern, then stating the melody with angular reharmonised chords over a busily arhythmic undertow from the drums. There’s a tour de force of unaccompanied playing in the middle of it which is worth the disc on its own, turning the main melodic motif into a repeating loop against a darting, clanging left-hand which sometimes echoes the melody itself, sometimes boogies dementedly. The swinging that develops the tune further is a prime example of how often Mehldau keeps a founding theme active in glimpses. Dreamsville is a delicious reverie in which the underlying chords sometimes echo the right-hand patterns and sometimes drop into a distant drone. The title track echoes Mehldau’s great Riverman interpretation in its prodding chord vamp (though the tune is bent almost to breaking in this piece) and there’s an exhilarating full-on jazzy jam on Thelonious Monk’s Skippy. Radiohead’s Everything in its Right Place is primarily a rhythmic exploration, Mehldau’s minimalism highlighting the importance of Rossy’s cymbal triplets to the general impact. Great piano-trio jazz, keeping Brad Mehldau right at the front of the pack.
John Fordham (The Guardian)