Highway Rider (Nonesuch)

Brad Mehldau

Released March 16, 2010

Jazzwise Top 10 Releases of 2010

The Guardian 5-Star Review






Nonesuch Records released Highway Rider—a double-disc of original work by pianist and composer Brad Mehldau—on March 16, 2010. The album is his second collaboration with renowned producer Jon Brion and features performances by Mehldau’s trio—drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier—as well as drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a chamber orchestra led by Dan Coleman. Mehldau also orchestrated and arranged the album’s 15 pieces for the ensemble.

“It’s so exciting to write something and have it in your head and then hear it for the first time being played by these magnificent musicians,” he says. “It’s really an emotional experience. I’m still reeling from it.”

“For me, the biggest challenge was the orchestration—which notes to assign to what instruments. I’ve been studying lots of orchestral scores for a while now—Strauss, Brahms, Tchaikovsky; a lot of big romantic stuff in particular. But while I was writing, I was also listening closely to modern orchestrators and arrangers, and there are two who have made an impact on me especially—François Rauber in his work with Jacques Brel, and Bob Alcivar in his work with Tom Waits.” Jon Brion also produced Mehldau’s 2002 album Largo, and Mehldau had been hoping to work with him again since then. “I knew from working with Jon on Largo that he was the guy who would find a way to put all the pieces together for this project. It was really quite a beast sonically at some points—two drummers playing at the same time, bass, sax, and piano, and then the orchestra on top of that. I wanted to record everything live whenever possible but wasn’t sure if we could do it. The first conversation with Jon about the music, that was for him a done deal—it had to be live, with the orchestra and the jazz group playing together. Jon had the foresight during the recording, and then a great deal of craft during the mixing, to bring it all together and sound like it does. And we were able to avoid what the conductor Dan Coleman jokingly referred to as ‘disco strings’—that is, adding the orchestra onto the jazz group’s performance after the fact.”

Track Listing:

Disc 1

1. John Boy (Brad Mehldau) 3:15

2. Don’t Be Sad (Brad Mehldau) 8:40

3. At the Tollbooth (Brad Mehldau) 1:07

4. Highway Rider (Brad Mehldau) 7:45

5. The Falcon Will Fly Again (Brad Mehldau) 8:21

6. Now You Must Climb Alone (Brad Mehldau) 4:05

7. Walking the Peak (Brad Mehldau) 8:00

Disc 2

1. We’ll Cross the River Together (Brad Mehldau) 12:28

2. Capriccio (Brad Mehldau) 5:20

3. Sky Turning Grey [For Elliot Smith] (Brad Mehldau) 6:24

4. Into the City (Brad Mehldau) 7:36

5. Old West (Brad Mehldau) 8:28

6. Come with Me (Brad Mehldau) 6:19

7. Always Departing (Brad Mehldau) 6:20

8. Always Returning (Brad Mehldau) 9:52


Brad Mehldau: piano (CD1: 1-5, 7; CD2: 1-6, 8), pump organ (CD1: 2; CD2: 3), Yamaha CS-80 (CD1: 4), orchestral bells (CD1: 7; CD2: 1, 8); handclaps (CD2: 2)

Jeff Ballard: percussion (CD1: 1, 5; CD2: 2), snare brush (CD1: 2), drums (CD1: 7; CD2: 1, 4, 6, 8); handclaps (CD2: 2)

Joshua Redman: soprano saxophone (CD1: 1, 5; CD2: 2, 8), tenor saxophone (CD1: 2, 7; CD2: 1, 3, 5); handclaps (CD2: 2)

Larry Grenadier: bass (CD1: 2, 4, 7; CD2: 1, 3, 4, 6, 8); handclaps (CD2: 2)

Matt Chamberlain: drums (CD1: 2, 4, 5, 7, 8; CD2: 2, 3); handclaps (CD2: 2)

Dan Coleman: orchestra conductor (CD1: 1, 2, 6, 7; CD2: 1, 7, 8)

Brad, Josh, Dan, Matt, Jeff, and special guests The Fleurettes: la la la vocals (CD1: 5)

Recorded February 16–28 and May 12–19, 2009, at Ocean Way Studios, Hollywood, CA

Produced by Jon Brion

Engineered by Gregg Koller

Mixed by Gregg Koller and Jon Brion

Pro Tools Engineer: Eric Caudieux

Mastered by Alan Yoshida

Graphic Design by Lawrence Azerrad

Cover photograph: “Drive-In Theatre, Las Vegas, 1987,” by Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, Pace/MacGill Gallery and Marc Selwyn Fine Arts

Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz


Brad Mehldau doesn’t do things by halves and in a year which has also seen the pianist release an ambitious double album with mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter for which he wrote music set to the poems of Sara Teasdale, ee cummings and Philip Larkin, Highway Rider released back in the spring was both a sequel to his earlier album Largo from 2002 reuniting him with rock drummer Matt Chamberlain and producer Jon Brion, but also a way for the pianist to put down a marker by saying “look out I’ve changed”.

And changed he has; far on from his early career as the “new Bill Evans”; a distance on too from his prevailing Gothic impulses or homages to angsty alternative rock bands or doomed songwriters, Highway Rider shows the Brahmsian side of Mehldau leavened with a grasp of the folklore of The Road in American literature and music. As Mehldau told Jazzwise’s Selwyn Harris in the April issue: “There is a journey idea to the record, and a cyclical element – leaving home, travelling, and returning home.”

While he might not be a Travis-type figure, a mysterious traveller, and Highway Rider is hardly Mehldau’s version of Paris Texas, nonetheless the double album is an intriguing and even sentimental take on his notion of America, distinct from say Pat Metheny’s. His is less about sweeping prairies and wide-open landscapes and Mehldau particularly with his “protagonist” Joshua Redman casts a wary eye on a fast disappearing nation passing by; he always keeps his critical faculties alert even in whimsier mode.

Mehldau with the Britten Sinfonia during the recent London Jazz Festival opened up the work to new pastures and the woodwind textures particularly came out even more strongly than they do on the record, while drummers Jeff Ballard and Matt Chamberlain demonstrated a rapport that they also hinted at on the record. Mehldau returns with a live solo album in January, a more sober outing at times than Highway Rider which despite the lighter atmosphere, nonetheless impressed Jazzwise writers by showing another side to the increasingly influential Mehldau.

Stephen Graham (Jazzwise)