sun 14/07/2024

CD: Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution! | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution!

CD: Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Prolific improvising pianist creates the apotheosis of the piano trio

Seymour and his cartful of books represents Mehldau's eclecticism and range

From Bach to the Beach Boys in three months. Though the right side of 50, pianist and bandleader Brad Mehldau has released 35 albums in over 25 years. In the Nineties, as a twenty-something, he recorded a five-volume series of albums with the title Art of the Trio. Today, he’s probably the best-known improvising pianist after Keith Jarrett.

No one can accuse him of a lack of ambition or confidence. On the evidence here, it’s born of a great inspiration and gift. This is sumptuous, collective improvisation of the highest order.

Listening to this album without a track listing, it would require an intense focus to deduce the eclecticism of the source material. As well as three originals, there’s a McCartney, a Brian Wilson song from the unloved Beach Boys’ album Friends, covers of Sam Rivers and Elmo Hope, and a version of Frederick Loewe’s "Almost Like Being in Love", from the musical Brigadoon. So soon after his solo album of Bach improvisations, it seems to be part of Mehldau’s mission to show how almost anything can be mined for jazz.

Mehldau’s stylistic range is astonishing. Within the space of a few bars he will traverse genres and generations. He has the energy and caprice of a Jarrett, but also the sophistication of Ellington, the blues of Silver, the pugnacity of Monk, sometimes all in the same piece. There are hints of classical models, too: not just Bach, but his disciples, like the Shostakovich of the Preludes. Fragments of melody hang in the air, teased by long-term bassist Larry Grenadier’s harmony, and pummelled by drummer Jeff Ballard’s beat, at once elastic and rigorous. Mehldau’s treatments are (no doubt intentionally) contrarian: the Broadway showstopper "Almost Like Being In Love" is frisked with a spiky, frantic energy, while the title track, for all its hints of abstraction, is melodic and bluesy.

Who is Seymour? Dunno, though the hint of constitutions confirms the sense that something lapidary has been created. It’s so good, it sounds effortless. Accepting that this is formally quite a conservative collection, it’s a consummate statement. Gorgeous.  


Within the space of a few bars Mehldau will traverse genres and generations


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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Seymour may be the character created by JD Salinger.

Brad Mehldau has told the story to Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle: According to Dansby, the title comes from a dream Mehldau had about the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the dream, Hoffman was standing in a room with Mehldau, and the actor was reading the American Constitution. “I woke up and wrote the tune, as has happened on a few occasions — I dream something musically and then try to grab it right away,” Mehldau says. “Not even a week later, he died. I was saddened like many people — I was a big fan. I was also spooked because I had just dreamed about him. It seemed like a message from the future, a portent.”

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