Brad Mehldau Trio



Brad Mehldau (Piano)

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has recorded and performed extensively since the early 1990s. Mehldau’s most consistent output over the years has taken place in the trio format. Starting in 1996, his group released a series of five records on Warner Bros. entitled The Art of the Trio (recently re-packaged and re-released as a 5-Disc box set by Nonesuch in late 2011). During that same period, Mehldau also released a solo piano recording entitled Elegiac Cycle, and a record called Places that included both solo piano and trio songs. Elegiac Cycle Cycle and Places might be called concept albums made up exclusively of original material with central themes that hover over the compositions. Other Mehldau recordings include Largo, a collaborative effort with the innovative musician and producer Jon Brion, and Anything Goes — a trio outing with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy.

His first record for Nonesuch, Brad Mehldau Live in Tokyo, was released in September 2004. After ten rewarding years with Rossy playing in Mehldau’s regular trio, drummer Jeff Ballard joined the band in 2005. The label released its first album from the Brad Mehldau Trio — Day is Done — on September 27, 2005. An exciting double live trio recording entitled Brad Mehldau Trio Live was released on March 25th, 2008 (Nonesuch). On March 16, 2010, Nonesuch released a double-disc of original work entitled Highway Rider, the highly anticipated follow up to Largo. The album was Mehldau’s second collaboration with renowned producer Jon Brion and featured performances by Mehldau’s trio — drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier — as well as percussionist Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a chamber orchestra led by Dan Coleman. In 2011 Nonesuch released Live in Marciac — a two CD release with a companion DVD of the 2006 performance, and Modern Music, a collaboration between pianists Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays and composer/arranger Patrick Zimmerli. In 2012 Nonesuch released an album of original songs from the Brad Mehldau Trio — Ode — the first from the trio since 2008’s live Village Vanguard disc and the first studio trio recording since 2005’s Day is Done. Ode went on to garner a Grammy nomination. Nonesuch released the Brad Mehldau Trio’s Where Do You Start, a companion disc to the critically acclaimed Ode, in the fall of 2012. Whereas Ode featured 11 songs composed by Mehldau, Where Do You Start was comprised of interpretations of 10 tunes by other composers, along with one Mehldau original. In 2013, Mehldau produced and performed on Walking Shadows, the acclaimed Nonesuch release from Joshua Redman. 2013 also saw a number of collaborative tours including a duo tour with mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, piano duets with Kevin Hays and a new electric project with prodigious drummer Mark Guiliana entitled Mehliana. Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, the debut release by Mehliana, was released in early 2014. Mehldau’s monumental and ambitious 10 Years Solo Live eight-LP vinyl box set was released to unanimous critical acclaim on October 16th, 2015 (with CD and digital versions released in November). The set was culled from 19 live recordings made over a decade of the pianist’s European solo concerts and was divided into four thematic subsets of four sides each: Dark/Light, The Concert, Intermezzo/Rückblick, and E Minor/E Major. In 2016, Nonesuch Records released the Brad Mehldau Trio’s highly-anticipated Blues and Ballads — the ensemble’s first new release since 2012’s Where Do You Start — and the celebrated debut album of the Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau Duo, Nearness, featuring recordings from their 2011 European tour. Both albums have received universal from critics and audiences alike, and both have earned a Grammy nomination for Mehldau. Mandolinist/singer Chris Thile joins Mehldau for their debut release in 2017: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau.

Mehldau’s musical personality forms a dichotomy. He is first and foremost an improviser, and greatly cherishes the surprise and wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep fascination for the formal architecture of music, and it informs everything he plays. In his most inspired playing, the actual structure of his musical thought serves as an expressive device. As he plays, he listens to how ideas unwind, and the order in which they reveal themselves. Each tune has a strongly felt narrative arch, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended. The two sides of Mehldau’s personality — the improviser and the formalist — play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.

Mehldau has performed around the world at a steady pace since the mid-1990s, with his trio and as a solo pianist. His performances convey a wide range of expression. There is often an intellectual rigor to the continuous process of abstraction that may take place on a given tune, and a certain density of information. That could be followed by a stripped down, emotionally direct ballad. Mehldau favors juxtaposing extremes. He has attracted a sizeable following over the years, one that has grown to expect a singular, intense experience in his performance.

In addition to his trio and solo projects, Mehldau has worked with a number of great jazz musicians, including a rewarding gig with saxophonist Joshua Redman’s band for two years, recordings and concerts with Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Lee Konitz, and recording as a sideman with the likes of Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, and Charles Lloyd. For more than a decade, he has collaborated with several musicians and peers whom he respects greatly, including the guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Mehldau also has played on a number of recordings outside of the jazz idiom, like Willie Nelson’s Teatro and singer-songwriter Joe Henry’s Scar. His music has appeared in several movies, including Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Wim Wender’s Million Dollar Hotel. He also composed an original soundtrack for the French film, Ma Femme Est Une Actrice. Mehldau composed two new works commissioned by Carnegie Hall for voice and piano, The Blue Estuaries and The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, which were performed in the spring of 2005 with the acclaimed classical soprano, Renee Fleming. These songs were recorded with Fleming and released in 2006 on the Love Sublime record; simultaneously, Nonesuch released an album of Mehldau’s jazz compositions for trio entitled House on Hill. A 2008 Carnegie Hall commission for a cycle of seven love songs for Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter premiered in 2010. Love Songs, a double album that paired the newly commissioned song cycle, with a selection of French, American, English, and Swedish songs that Mehldau and von Otter performed together, was released in late 2010 (on the Naïve label) to unanimous praise. In 2013 Mehldau premiered and performed Variations on a Melancholy Theme a large format orchestral piece which was performed with both Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Britten Sinfonia.

Mehldau was appointed as curator of an annual four-concert jazz series at London's prestigious Wigmore Hall during its 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, with Mehldau appearing in at least two of the four annual concerts. In late January 2010 Carnegie Hall announced the 2010-11 season-long residency by Mehldau as holder of the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall—the first jazz artist to hold this position since it was established in 1995. Previous holders include Louis Andriessen (2009–2010), Elliott Carter (2008–2009), and John Adams (2003–2007).

Larry Grenadier (Bass)

As one of contemporary jazz’s most respected and accomplished bassists, Larry Grenadier has amassed a body of work that encompasses many significant projects with the genre’s most inventive and influential musicians. Over a career spanning three decades, he has earned a far-reaching reputation for his instrumental talent and instantly recognizable tone. His sensitivity, imagination, and creative curiosity have established him as an in-demand sideman and valued collaborator. Grenadier’s trademark upright bass work has been a fixture in the bands of pianist Brad Mehldau and guitarist Pat Metheny, and has graced albums by many prestigious artists, including Paul Motian, Charles Lloyd, Danilo Pérez, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, and Kurt Rosenwinkel. He also has found time to make three albums with Fly, his own acclaimed trio, and to record five discs with his wife, noted singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin.Of his performance style, Grenadier has observed: I’m hyper-aware of the balance between a studied approach to music and a more primal, instinctual understanding of the way music works. Having access to technique is useful in being able to communicate and express yourself musically. But music is about intuition and emotion. Compassion, strength, flexibility, and stamina are all important qualities in playing music. But the most important thing is the ability to listen. Despite his veteran status, playing music is still a learning experience for me, he said. I’m always working on the technical aspects of my playing, but at the same time, I know that what happens on stage between musicians isn’t about that. The level of telepathy and intuition that exists in music, especially in jazz, is a constant reminder of what we’re capable of, both inside and outside of music.

Jeff Ballard (Drums, Percussion)

As a child, Jeff Ballard would lie in bed and listen to the music his father would play: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sérgio Mendes, Oscar Peterson, and Milton Nascimento. I remember feeling the power of a Basie big band shout chorus, which would then suddenly disappear into some quiet dancing riff, said Ballard, a native of Santa Cruz, California. It was the swing in it that excited me the most. I also remember how it felt traveling through sounds of the jungle in a Milton Nascimento record. The drums, percussion, and voice would sound as if they either came from the earth or were made of water. And I was so happy to hear the joy of Ella and Louis singing and playing together. I think that that early exposure has made me part of what I am today, especially in regard to my love for sound.

At a community college, Ballard studied music theory and played in a big band. He also started working in small groups that played music for all kinds of occasions. He then realized that each genre has specific requirements. A big band needs a propelling and simple drive, more supportive, for the ensemble to sit in, he said. Brazilian drumming needs that driving bass drum with an insistent yet light dancing quality with the hands. Afro-Cuban music I can compare to boxing—something like sparring with an opponent. I think the challenge is in the search for finding the music’s particular needs. The joy is in the discovery.

At the age of twenty-five, Ballard began playing with Ray Charles. We toured eight months straight every year, Ballard said. Although we often played the same songs and arrangements every night, Ray was always able to make us feel as if it was for the very first time. The drum chair was the best seat in the house, really. I only had to watch Ray’s feet to know where and what he wanted the groove to be. What a great school.

After three years with Charles, Ballard moved to New York City, where he found like-minded musicians, including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen, Guillermo Klein, Larry Grenadier, and Ben Allison, who were drawing on tradition as well as searching for their own expression in music. I started playing music which was of a more personal nature and which drew from an extremely wide palette of influence, Ballard said. Playing and recording with all of these musicians have opened up the opportunity for me to explore my infatuation with sound. It is the sound, not the note per se, which touches me the most.

Ballard also has performed and toured with Eddie Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Mike Stern, and Danilo Pérez. He joined Chick Corea in 1999 and continues to play with the legendary keyboardist in his various projects. I learned so much playing with him, Ballard said. I encountered through him a high speed of thought in improvisation and a constant clarity of expression in the music. The chance to play in all kinds of different musical situations brought a heightened awareness of touch to my playing as well. Along with being a member of the Brad Mehldau Trio, Ballard also performs with Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band. Ballard also is a co-leader of Fly, a trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. Ballard describes Fly as a sparse unit, with a focused approach in which the lead voice often changes instruments, or simply vanishes into a three-way dialogue. We all wanted to pare down and see what we could do sonically with this type of instrumentation. The group’s self-titled debut disc, Fly (2004), and its subsequent release, Sky & Country (2009), won critical acclaim.

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