wed 24/07/2024

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana, Barbican

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana, Barbican

Hip-geek pianist and drummer get cosmic and funky and almost pull it off

Mehldau: Jazz Keyboard wizard gets the funk

For someone who has built a reputation for limpid, introspective piano playing, last night was a new adventure both for Brad Mehldau and his (mainly) supportive audience. He has covered fellow introvert Nick Drake’s songs, and he is a master of thoughtful, expressive piano. So when we hear he's doing a show that references drum ’n’ bass and 1970s funk in a duo with a drummer with synths and Fender Rhodes, a certain apprehension is in order.

It could have been like all those opera singers who suddenly discover jazz and usually make a complete hash of it.

In fact, the first few numbers were euphoric and musically satisfying. Mehldau had discovered the joys of early analogue synths and with the Rhodes and some piano created some exhilarating soundscapes. Compared to most modern electronica, which still relies on robotic click tracks, this was nostalgia for a lost, more organic world when synths were new. The ghosts of Tonto’s Expanding Headband and early Tangerine Dream hovered.

Some glittery 1970s style disco dancing girls could have wandered on stage and not looked out of place 

When the outrageously fat, funky synth bass, as well as big sweeping synth waves kicked in there was sheer pleasure in rediscovering these sounds. The M.O. seemed to be trancey three chord repetitions and variations (not rock and roll or blues) with some astonishing jazz improvised runs, with occasional atonal showers of notes just to keep things interesting. Mark Guiliana was an excellent foil for Mehldau, keeping things very tight and muscular on the drums, dropping occasional rhythmic bombs off the beat on detuned cowbells. At times it was the misbegotten twinkly child of Philip Glass and Bootsy Collins, arpeggios and deep funk bass. Some glittery 1970s style disco-dancing girls could have wandered on stage and not looked out of place. 

What was curious was how one loud interjection “more piano!”  from someone in the crowd seemed to break the spell, or at least change the energy. The heckle seemed to throw Mehldau’s cool momentarily and he said how actually he had played quite a bit of piano in the first 20 minutes if the guy had bothered to listen (the first and last time he said anything to the crowd except a thanks at the end). There followed a drum solo. But when another three-chord futuristic gospel number, with similar runs appeared, there was a sense of everything beginning to sound a little samey.

Bearing in mind how we were in the presence of arguably the best jazz pianist in the world right now, we were reminded that we missed that delicate piano touch that had he had built a following with. What piano there was seemed to be treated with effects. On whatever keyboard, Mehldau is astonishingly ambidextrous and the sort of rare musician who you feel is totally at home with all kinds of music, but the end result was ambiguous.The duo’s forthcoming album, out early next year, might just be a commercial Brubeck/Miles-style breakout hit. Whether it will enhance or not the Mehldau hip-geek aura remains to be seen. 


The Village Underground earlier this year was a better venue for the fantastic Mehliana than the Barbican Hall. When Brad next comes with his acoustic trio, it will be advertised as such. I'll go to that one, too.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters