Brad Mehldau at London Jazz Festival
A sold-out Barbican concert by one of today’s leading jazz pianists
‘There is a feast ahead of you’ promised the announcer at this concert, one of the most hotly anticipated at this year’s London Jazz Festival. Pianist Brad Mehldau, widely considered a must-see performer, has an appeal that genuinely reaches far beyond the jazz establishment, pulling in fans for his repertoire that draws from the classical and popular canon, as well as the wide spectrum of jazz itself.
With his long-standing trio, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, this year alone Mehldau has produced two stunning albums, Ode and Where Do You Start. And I was half-expecting a concert of material from these recent discs but Mehldau dug much further afield to produce a set that began with a ten-minute version of Paul McCartney’s piece ‘Great Day’, immediately followed by a stunning latin-flavoured version of The Beatles’ ‘And I Love Her’.
Dressed casually, in a brown outfit with plimsolls, the profile of the pianist’s body became strangely contorted during each piece, as he delivered every note with trademark precision. In Charlie Parker’s ‘Cheryl’, as the rhythm created a driving groove – with swinging drums and a thundering bass – the pianist sat cross-legged on his stool, enjoying the spectacle. Then, with a new composition, ‘Ten Tune’, Mehldau introduced a more cinematic slant, creating a haunting piano melody, accompanied by Grenadier’s vibrato bass line (thanks to a bow sourced from a helpful audience member). Next up, a standard ‘Since I fell for you’, was given a laid-back blues treatment. And defying expectations, the piece didn’t end, as Mehldau began a lengthy keyboard workout, his right hand crossing his left to explore the outer octaves of the piano, as his left kept an even middle-range pulse.
There was no doubt about how well the music was going down. The audience was captivated. And then, not one but three encores. This included his version of Paul Simon’s ‘Still crazy after all those years’, from the disc Anything Goes (2004). This was bookended by an astonishing untitled composition, which saw Grenadier reaching for the top-most part of his instrument for a solo, and the final piece, a strikingly complex version of John Coltrane’s ‘Count down’.
There was also some intriguing news announced about a forthcoming ‘secret’ Mehldau concert. Mehldau and his trio will be returning to the UK in March to appear at a mystery location. If you’re interested, the best advice is to keep a look out on the website of the producers of the London Jazz Festival, Serious, where details will be revealed at a later date.