Brad Mehldau plays cutting-edge jazz at Kresge
The Bowdoin Music Department presented a jazz concert in Kresge Auditorium featuring the prominent jazz pianist Brad Mehldau on Wednesday, October 15. Mehldau played with a trio including Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums.
Mehldau has a very unique style and eclectic mix of inspirations. He has made a name for himself in the jazz world with nine critically acclaimed albums including The Art of the Trio (I-V) (1996-2000), Elegiac Cycle (1999), Places (2000) and Largo (2001). He has also participated in numerous collaborations with some of the jazz greats, including saxophonists Lee Konitz, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, Mark Turner and Wayne Shorter, drummers Billy Higgins and Jimmy Cobb, guitarist John Scofield, and bassist Christian McBride.
The concert was a real treat for Bowdoin students as well as jazz fans from the community. Mehldau is used to playing in large places like the Village Vanguard in New York City and the Litchfield Jazz Festival, but it was great to hear him in a more intimate setting among devoted fans and curious students. Mehldau's set list consisted of a varied mix of tunes including an original composition, some standards, ballads like "More Than You Know" and "Alfi," as well as an obscure Thelonius Monk tune, "Skippy."
But what really surprised the audience was his curveballs, where he presented arranged versions of pop and rock tunes including Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover" and Radiohead's "Exit Music (For A Film)," which he played for the encore. This was one thing that seems to distinguish Mehldau as an artist. He takes inspirations from various types of music and his style reflects bits of cool jazz as well as pop influences. Mehldau's approach to songs takes on a life of its own but harkens back to old greats like Bill Evans and Monk himself. In today's world with the constantly morphing state of jazz music, Mehldau represents the new wave of musicians who try to find new definitions in every note of their music.
As a person, Mehldau is an introvert and seemed to be less concerned with who was listening to his music than what he was playing. Upon entering the auditorium, it was clear that he intended to have us sit in on one of his sessions, rather than present something to us. His piano was facing upstage, with his back to the audience, so that he could clearly see and communicate with his band. The drum-set was also facing the piano, as if the band's success was entirely dependent on the feng shui of the instruments on the stage. This positioning was quiet, modest, and charming, and heightened our understanding of Mehldau's music.
I ran into Mehldau after the concert in Jack Magee's, where he was picking up a late dinner. I approached him and thanked him for the wonderful concert. He smiled timidly and quickly walked away. Mehldau is very shy and this is accurately reflected in his music. He does not like to do interviews, and most likely prefers his music to speak for him.
It was clear that Mehldau had a great deal of very interesting things to say last Wednesday in his performance, because his tunes were captivating and entertaining. He is a very talented pianist with a very graceful, intentional touch to the keys. He was backed up by a talented bassist and drummer who have been touring with Mehldau for a while now, and the three work together like bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
I encourage all those interested in Brad Mehldau to check out his CDs in the music library. It was a huge privilege to hear him live and we hope to have him perform again in the future.