Cover Story [Issue
CD Warner Bros. )
to Brad Mehldau on the ONE WAY CD 7
It has been two
years since pianist Brad Mehldaus last studio release. While Largo
was very much about the collaboration of Mehldau with producer Jon Brion, Mehldaus
newest installment comes as a return to the trio sound. Anything Goes
again finds Mehldau with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. The
three jazzmen have captured a truly visceral group sound, while retaining a
high level of smart interplay.
On pastime favorites and modern classics, Anything Goes showcases a controlled sensitivity from beginning to end. With such a strong musical rapport between the members of the trio, they easily glide from Arien and Koehler’s "Get Happy" to Cole Porter’s "Anything Goes" to Paul Simon’s "Still Crazy After All These Years" to Radiohead’s "Everything in Its Right Place" to Chaplin, Parsons, and Phillips’ "Smile" with Monk, Mancini, and other goodies placed throughout the album. For many groups, this genre-less collection of tunes would be an arduous march. But with Mehldau, Grenadier, and Rossy at the helm, Anything Goes is an interesting stroll through solid compositions. Anything Goes gracefully keeps the active listener tuned in while playing in such a way that even the most surface-level listener will be mightily pleased.
ONE WAY caught up with Brad in Los Angeles:
In your mind, what sets this project apart from previous projects?
I feel like we've matured a great deal as a trio, the three of us. Larry, Jorge, and I have been playing together for almost ten years now. The record has a different quality than several of the others we've recorded. It's more at ease, it's more emotionally direct, and the ideas between the three of us have a succinct quality that I'm proud of. It has a nice, lean quality to it.
What made you decide to do a "cover album," so to speak? Would you even consider it such?
We went into the studio and recorded a bunch of material - 18 songs or so, in two short days. The music was really 'ripe' because we had been playing most of the material for several months and it was ready to be documented. But, it was too much stuff to put out all at once; it would have been a flabby double CD. Half of the material was originals and half were interpretations of existing tunes, and we decided, on the suggestion of co-producer Matt Pierson, to split the session that way. Hopefully, there will be a record of originals released in the future.
I don't like the term 'cover' although it's kind of in vogue now, as a pragmatic way of describing a tune that hasn't been around for the 50 or so years it takes to be called a 'standard.' I guess it does sound a little strange to call Radiohead's 'Everything In Its Right Place' that we do on this record a standard, although I wouldn't have a problem calling Paul Simon's 'Still Crazy . . .' that we do a standard. In any case, the reason why I don't like 'cover' is because cover always meant what you did at a wedding gig when I first started working as a professional musician - someone would ask for a cover, say, of 'We've Only Just Begun' by the Carpenters, and you'd 'cover' it. I remember going to see 'cover' bands in the late 80's - 'Dread Zeppelin' doing Led Zep and 'Crystal Ship' covering the Doors. They wouldn't do anything else with the music; they'd just play it like the original. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's obviously not what we're doing, so you need another term or no term at all. 'Interpretation' works for me, although it sounds a little art-housey. When did 'cover' become something to aspire to, though? I think it came out of the 90's culture of ironic self-awareness, where you had my generation referencing its own recent past at any opportunity, and that became a means to an end.
This album comes as a return to the trio setting. Was the musical setting of Largo an anomaly or might we except to hear future divergences from the trio?
Largo was very much about my meeting Jon Brion, who produced it, and having the opportunity to collaborate with him. I'd love to work with him again in the future and I hope it happens.
I cannot think of Brad Mehldau without thinking of Jorge Rossy and Larry Grenadier as well. What do you like most about them as musicians? What do you think allows for such an evocative trio sound?
Yeah, you nailed it - they really have defined who I am as a musician. I can't think of my own identity without including them - it sort of slips into them. When someone asks me who my big influences are, I often say, ‘the two guys I play with.’ Jorge is incredibly unique as a drummer. He's an unusually intelligent musician and that intelligence informs everything he plays - he's aware of the form of the compositions and plays accordingly. He can build something slowly and logically with a big, long arc, yet you're not aware of the mental process; it remains at an intuitive level to a point. Larry also has that intelligence in everything he plays. He has an elemental, deep quality to his playing that propels me into a different direction often. He's a force that comes from the ground with the three of us and for me it's an inspirational fuse, a jumping - off point. I really feed off both of them.
I had the chance to see you live in Manchester, England. Do you take a similar focus into the studio?
That was a nice gig, nice audience. The studio environment lacks the audience, obviously, which for me at least, and I think the other guys, is such an integral part of becoming inspired. You become inspired because you want to share something with those people that will change their perception. I hate the idea, after all, of someone coming to a concert of mine and thinking, 'I know what they're going to do, this is just taking up my time. When's it going to be over?’ So on some level, unconsciously, you're propelled by your own ego not to let that happen. In the studio, you have to defer that experience and imagine that eventually there will be people listening to what you're doing, and what's more, when that comes out on CD, it's written in stone so to speak. There's an added pressure and a lack of human contact, all at once. It's more difficult, in that regard, in the studio.
It seems you have an affinity for Radiohead and TheBeatles. What do you think makes their respective songs so compelling?
They both have a certain harmonic language that's informed by some classical stuff; that might have something to do with it. There's a complexity to the architecture of their tunes, complexity not as an end in itself, but something compelling with layers, that draws you in further. There's an emotional directness. Also, I guess if you name both of those bands, they both have a balance between something sweet and almost sentimental, and something acidic and sarcastic - a nice admixture of sentiment that makes a heady brew. In The Beatles, it's obviously the John/Paul dichotomy, but Radiohead has that going as well - just when their dreaminess is in danger of becoming navel-gazing, they shock you back to harsh reality.
What has influenced your style most? How do you feelyour style has progressed over time?
I haven't met you, but I like you already! Because you asked, 'what' and not 'who' has influenced my style. It's very much a 'what' thing these days - it's, quite simply, the culmination of whatever has the strongest emotional impact on me as a listener, as a fan of music. That music sits in my heart and my head for kind of a gestation period. And then it comes out, for lack of a better word, in my own bastardization of what I love. It has to be bastardization - it has to be your own twisted take on what you love. You're asserting your own identity onto something that's pre-existing, and the intersection between - yourself and what you love is where something new is born something that's inevitably informed by the past, but in an idiosyncratic way.
In the beginning of my musical development, the progression of my style was more radical, with big, sweeping changes. In the last five years or so, the changes have been more like adding onto an identity that's already established. It's more like chiseling at something that already largely has a shape and integrity to it.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
Music itself, in all its greatness. It's pretty self-contained. I might get inspired by a sunset or a particular French cheese or what have you, but I've never been able to graph how that parlays into a new tune.
Comparisons are sometimes made to the Bill Evans trio. To what degree do you believe this comparison is valid?
I play in a piano trio with bass and drums; he played in a piano trio with bass and drums.
What made you begin a series of The Art Of TheTriorecordings? Do you view the albums as chapters of awhole?
The idea for the series of recordings with one title like that wasn't mine; it was Matt Pierson's at Warner Brothers, who signed me and produced several of our records. He had a vision that we would be around together as a band and wanted to document the growth of the band. I think that's what the records do - they document the growth of the band. There's not much more of a narrative shape to the series as a whole beyond that that I can discern, although there might be to a listener. Often, an astute listener can hear things in my music that I wouldn't catch. I obviously lack certain objectivity because I'm sitting in the middle of the process.
I remember "Anything Goes" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Where did you get the idea to do a rendition of this song?
I heard Helen Merill's version of it, and Ella Fitzgerald's as well.
What does the future hold for you?
More playing music, I hope.
And after listening to Mehldau’s trio, I am sure that you will hope the same as well. On Anything Goes, there is no need to tap your foot or listen intently for complicated structures. Each note feels rich and heartfelt. This album is astonishingly versatile as it can just as easily wash over you, as it can get those cranial juices flowing. As the trio interprets familiar tunes, Anything Goes rouses recent nostalgia and harks back to more dated eras. In times where it is easy to get caught up in definitions, rules, and regulations, it is nice to sit back for a moment, throw it all out the window, and think and feel that anything goes.
to (Brad Mehldau) on the ONE WAY CD