Thursday, May 7, 2009

Brad Mehldau

The new Dakota is a beautiful swanky place and it’s fun to go there, if you can afford it. I’m not sure I like it better than the old Dakota, where most of the seats were either too close or too far away, and the ringing of the cash register at the bar was an incessant nuisance. But that’s a moot point.

If I seldom go to the Dakota, it’s mainly because I’m an early riser, and find it hard to stay up for the second set…yet the first set is usually too short, and it costs more besides.

Perhaps as a result of this parsimony and discernment, the shows I have seen at the new Dakota have been uniformly outstanding, from Ravi Coltrane to Hiromi, from Dorado Schmitt to Bobby Watson. Brad Mehldau’s show last Sunday night was no exception.

Mehldau was once a wunderkindt of the jazz world; he studied with Fred Hersch at Berkley, performed as a sideman with many of the hallowed names of our era from Lee Konitz and Joshua Redman to Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd, and now, at the age of 39, has 14 albums to his credit as a soloist or bandleader.

Mehldau (who looks like Bill Murray’s skinny younger brother) is preeminently a trio pianist. He has the romantic temperament of a cocktail pianist (which is good) and the creative daring of an avant garde pianist (which is also good.) If an off-hand criticism could be leveled against him, it would be that he thinks too much—but this criticism would only apply when we’re chopping onions in the kitchen and would rather not follow the brooding paths laid down on the keyboard by an existentialist.

Often, when turning off a Brad Mehldau CD in mid-song, I’ve said to myself, “But I’d like to hear him live.” And I did. And it was rewarding and engaging. And the set was very long. And the martinis were good. And Mehldau himself was the essence of artistry and courtesy and depth. And we never got to the bottom of the basket of fries.

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