Review: Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana at Village Underground

Brad Mehladau and Mark Guiliana
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana
(Village Underground. 11 March 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

This fascinating and unpredictable duo concert overturned all the preconceptions about Brad Mehldau that might have been brought to this cavernous, crowded warehouse space on a freezing winter’s evening. Quirky, idiosyncratic, retro – these descriptors not normally applied to Mehldau were happily unavoidable, as he drew back the curtain to reveal the lesser known side to his musical DNA, his ingrained influences and passions as an improviser, composer and benign magpie.

In the renegade precision drummer, Mark Guiliana, he has located a musical soul mate whose finely honed technical discipline and off-beat delving in to the recent heritage of American garage, r’n’b and electro practiced with his own Beat Music project, brought a crisp, brightly intelligent percussive dynamic to the fluid audio-landscape.

The outwardly unruly but carefully controlled route that they charted glanced off all manner of musical reference from Baroque counterpoint to pomp rock – Terry Riley, The Nice, Run DMC, J S Bach, Pierre Henry, Zawinul, the sweetest of 70s and 80s soul-jazz, Miami bass, The Doors, Parliament Funkadelic; the echoes were all there, and a whole lot more.

The surprise for many Mehldau fans was his exclusive deployment of vintage electronic instruments – the Fender Rhodes and synths which lovingly recreated the ethos of slick, saucy 70s funk and soul, no concert grand in sight.

The questioning spirit of both musicians, their commitment to creating a structured edifice, simultaneously sound and fragile, constantly morphing in response to inputs from both sides of the stage – Mehldau to the left and Guiliana to the right – resulted in a refreshing musical architecture that defied definition.

The creative tension was there from the moment they walked on-stage – Mehldau’s lightly flowing, ethereal runs countered by Guiliana’s taut, multi-layered rhythmic fusillades. Heady bass riffs rippled through the floor. Sampled vintage voices ground their distorted way in to the texture. The pyrotechnics were implied but never overt.

As Mehldau reached across to mix and match the keyboards and synths, it was all about the left hand knowing exactly what the right hand was doing. He was not wont to hold back on the delights of the meanest of funk ripostes that grew out of croaky, distorted chords, and round the next corner the crackling mechanics of Guiliana’s snares and cymbals took on the beats single-handedly, recalling Charlie Hunter’s frisky guitar/drum combo with Scott Amendola.

The blend of ideas, the quality of the sound – notably the exquisitely modulated drum timbres and the carefully separated keyboard tones – painted an abstract soundtrack that devolved in to an industrial quagmire, ramped up with heaviest bass drum power punches. With Mehldau never shy of a sweet melody, their encore chased through prog, programming and Hammond-tinged blues to give both poignancy and a percussive hip-hop drive to the beauty of ‘My Favourite Things’. Their homage to its notable interpretation by John Coltrane over fifty years ago rounded off a truly special event on a note of great respect.

Oren Marshall held the stage earlier, transforming the Orenphone, his custom tuba, with electronic duplicity, hitting the psych guitar button before throwing in sampled conversations and riffs, and wheeling in to eastern European jigs to give a fresh perspective on brass possibilities.

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. I was really looking forward to this gig, having seen Mark Giuliana with Lionel Loueke at the Vortex last year. That was a sensational night. I also admire almost everything that Brad Mehldau does.

    This gig just didn't cut it for me at all. The venue is not ideal – it is hard to see the musicians in the standing crush and the venue could do better than sell little tins of bad beer at £3.50 a pop.

    However, apart from that, the set Mehldau and Giuliana played didn't really go anywhere. It was largely extended noodling and only rarely developed into interesting textures or grooves. Occasionally it engaged but there was no overall arc to the set.

    A very disappointing night.

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