Widgets Magazine

The Brad Mehldau Trio enchants at Bing

L to R: Larry Grenadier, Brad Mehldau, and Jeff Ballard. Photo courtesy of International Music Network

L to R: Larry Grenadier, Brad Mehldau, and Jeff Ballard. Photo courtesy of International Music Network

One of the finest jazz pianists of our time, Brad Mehldau has captivated audiences with his ability to play different melodies in each hand simultaneously and his penchant for turning pop tunes into jazz standards. On Friday night, notes sparkled with ethereal quality as he, along with Larry Grenadier ’89 on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums, performed a program of pop-turned-jazz melodies (“My Valentine” by Paul McCartney), jazz standards (“Airegin” by Sonny Rollins), original compositions (“Spiral” and “Sète Waltz”) and even a Spanish song (“Valse Brasilera” by Chico Buarque) at Bing Concert Hall.

Though the sheer size of the venue — Bing boasts a total of 842 seats, most of which were occupied on Friday — somewhat dampened the intimacy of the performance, the mood was nonetheless enchanting. What was striking about this performance was that it seemed so natural. Each member exuded an air of composure, with Mehldau perched coolly on the piano bench, Grenadier standing at ease with his bass and Ballard sitting calmly at the drums.

The trio radiated a self-assured — but not haughty — aura; they knew what they were doing. And considering their technical and expressive unity that night, they certainly did it well.

After a couple polite bows, Mehldau and company began with the debut of the “Sète Waltz,” an original piece composed in the French city of Sète earlier this year. Relaxed and comfortable, they played the piece at an ambulatory pace, the melody on the piano — played with characteristically detached articulation — walking on top of the chords beneath, Mehldau’s right hand embellishing the music with a lively mixture of arpeggios and scales.

The next piece, a recent original work titled “Spiral,” offered an upbeat swing feel and featured impressive solos for both Grenadier and Ballard. Grenadier’s rapid plucking imparted a feeling of movement: The music was going, pushed by the momentum of the rhythms. Yet it did not rush. Mehldau improvised within the beat; the notes in his right hand somersaulted and cartwheeled playfully over the calm legato chords of the left hand.

If “Spiral” was an afternoon stroll in the garden, the next piece, Mehldau’s arrangement of “Valsa Brasilera”  by Chico Buarque, was a nostalgic evening on the Rio Grande. Suave, sensual and smooth, the trio’s performance evoked a dreamy atmosphere, stirring up memories of passions long past. The bass and the piano exchanged sorrowful stories while Ballard stroked the drums with his jazz brushes — drumsticks with bristles at the end — layering a velvety texture that enhanced the seductive timbre of the music.

A fast-paced rendition of the jazz standard “Airegin” by saxophonist Sonny Rollins followed the Buarque. Mehldau’s slim figure swayed easily and Ballard’s quick, subtle movements provided a sharp, but not too dominating, beat over the low twang of Grenadier’s bass. Notes flitted in and out and collided, the result of which was — to use a phrase from the program notes — “controlled chaos.”

To close, the trio slowed down for a touching rendition of “My Valentine” by Paul McCartney. Time seemed suspended in the patient, slow rhythms and melancholy harmonies. Even with touches of rubato and melodic flourishes, Mehldau kept the overall structure in view, the minor chords grounding the melody and nudging it gently forward. His tender piano solo suggested classical influences — hints of Chopin and Bach in his expressive counterpoint between right and left hand.

The program was over, but the audience wanted more — a freewheeling, rolling encore followed. Lively tunes and rich sonorities whooshed through the auditorium, their crisp edges smoothed over by the echoes.

From the arrangements to originals, the Mehldau trio fused both spontaneity and structure. Free yet cohesive, the music flowed effortlessly, wrapping itself in a swirl around the audience. We left content, knowing that though the music was gone, the magic was still there.

About Marisa Lin

Marisa Lin is Music Desk Critic for the Stanford Daily. An undeclared freshman, she hails from Rochester, Minnesota. Contact Marisa at mlin3 'at' stanford.edu.
  • Christian Sween

    Brad Mehldau is one of the all time greats IMO. Great chops, incredible phrasing and simply the best!!! How do I become music editor for the Stanford Daily and get paid to go and watch great live music?