Brad Mehldau Trio
(Barbican Centre. 9 March 2020. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
We are all in need of reassurance that some things at least are right with the world. And for fans of Brad Mehldau, this gig provided it. His classic “Art of” trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard stopped off at all the places where people who have followed his career and who know his ‘canon’ well would want them to go.
For example, we were treated to a visit to all those off-meter rhythmic games and semitone sleights on “All The Things You Are” that the trio was already challenging itself with more than two decades ago. In more restful vein there was a sublime and poetic “Folks who Live on the Hill”. We had the long-form harmonic explorations of “Sehnsucht”, but without going off into the knottier and more anguished counterpoint (think Alkan) that has sometimes been the destination of this tune. In “Midnight Rider” Mehldau offered us a blissful and serene solo piano excursion. There were also episodes when the trio just showed how naturally it can swing as a totally cohesive unit. Mehldau has written copiously about the theory of swing. How wonderful to hear it, to see it, and above all to feel it being done so naturally and compellingly in the moment.
For the last of the three encores, we were taken to the calm and serenity of “Secret Love”, where the end of the song form gave way to a simple swaying forth from tonic to dominant. That was a moment just to reflect gently on all the great things that had been during a set which, including three (clearly planned) encores, had occupied around 100 minutes.
There were many moments when Larry Grenadier’s sheer class as a bass player shone through, but I found myself mesmerised by the way he anchored and centred the title song from “Midnight Rider” with a repeated three-note figure. That simplicity and assurance were the steady rock from which Mehldau and Ballard could launch off anywhere they wanted. And Jeff Ballard has that knack of providing a kaleidoscope of textures and colours without conflicting, over-powering or ever being busy just for the sake of it. He was enjoying himself too.
And please can we talk about the sound. Down the years, the Barbican has had to field its share of criticism for primitive or just plain poor sound quality at gigs like this. So, if there is any justice left in this world, the Barbican inbox [firstname.lastname@example.org] should be bombarded this morning with emails praising last night’s efforts. From where I sat the sound was very good indeed throughout.
Categories: Live review