It's a safe bet that I'll kick off every jazz review I write with some statement concerning the dense, cerebral nature of the idiom and its unique and demanding nature. The predictable, metronomic feel of pop (or even most rock, for that matter) makes for an easier, less obtrusive listen. And yet Mehldau and company's 're-telling' ('cover' sounds too simple for the trio's imaginative reinvention) of English rock band Radiohead's "Exit Music (for a Film)" closes out their album, Art of the Trio 4: Back At The Vanguard and is one of many highlights. Seriously: Jazz+Radiohead? It's like peanut butter and chocolate! Except for your ears.
Through out the entire set, Mehldau's meteoric playing is on full display. To that end, he is superbly supported by the expressive, lock-tight rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. And while the trio's take on Radiohead's tune is my favorite track, other highlights include a light, bouncy "I'll Be Seeing You" and grooving "Solar," the latter showcasing Grenadier's fleet fingers and Rossy's supple wrists. In fact, their playing allows for Mehldau to throw everything into his soloing from flurries of furious single note runs to pounding (almost boogie woogie) chords to ringing octave runs. What is so astonishing for this trio is the sheer density of sound they manage to create. The transition from frenetic exaltation of "London Blues" to "I'll Be Seeing You" is so smooth and perfect that you'll think Brad has read your mind and winked knowingly as he begins the penultimate number of this set.
So, if you're looking for a jazz album made up of quality musicianship that features an incredibly dynamic set recorded in an intimate atmosphere (there's something so endearing about the delicate smattering of applause after the solos, the barely audible clink of glasses and conversation) Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard is perfect fit. Indeed, its relative accessibility plays well as either a soundtrack for a dinner party or a study session. Yet the album's focus on virtuosity, interpretation, and the interplay of its participants insures a enjoyable listen for the most discerning jazz aficionado.
Joshua Redman - Wish
John Coltrane & Thelonius Monk - Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane
Oscar Peterson - The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note