Brad Mehldau/Wadada Leo Smith – review

Barbican/Cafe OTO, London
With Mark Guiliana, Mehldau was funky and electric – while Wadada Leo Smith's epic was both beautiful and sobering

Some of his audience began heckling the American piano star Brad Mehldau ("Play some piano! Play a solo!") during his untypically funky electric set with drummer Mark Guiliana. As the duo Mehliana, the pair were stirring the new brew of improv, 1970s dance-funk, and drum'n'bass with which they've enthused club audiences this year. It enthused most of this London jazz festival audience, too, though clearly not all of Mehldau's longer-term acoustic-jazz admirers. The barrackers hung on until the encore, only beating a slow retreat when Mehldau responded by turning up the loudest synth-bass thunder he could muster.

The set had begun reflectively with mingled acoustic-piano and Fender Rhodes lyricism, and built over Guiliana's bass-drum barrages, hailstorm rimshots, and remarkable tonal variety at speed. Oceanic vintage-synth sounds washed over roaring low-end noise, then turned to a Ray Charlesian soul-blues theme. A typical Mehldau piece of sustained Bach-like modulation brought cheers, with Guiliana's edgy energies behind it, and the encore became a headlong Joe Zawinul-like charge. But it was still pure Mehldau in its care for detail and its song-shapes, just with some loudly infectious histrionics piled on top.

Later, at Cafe OTO, the American jazz visionary Wadada Leo Smith launched the first of three nights devoted to his civil-rights epic Ten Freedom Summers, with his fine American group including pianist Anthony Davis and bassist John Lindberg, and Britain's Ligeti Quartet. Against wall-high video screens merging the band in action with haunting images from the race conflicts of the 1960s, Smith steered narratives of eddying improv-strings, jazz ensemble call-and-response, quotes from John Coltrane's iconic Alabama, and elliptical Miles Davis-like passages led by his own blistering trumpet phrasing. It was beautiful and sobering music, and one of the festival's big triumphs to have helped stage it.

• Did you catch this show – or any other recently? Tell us about it using #gdnreview

Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith – review

Ethnomusicologist, Rastafarian reggae fan, inventor of his own musical notation – the Mississipi-born Smith draws from a very deep well, writes John Fordham

John Fordham

29, Aug, 2012 @2:31 PM

Brad Mehldau Trio – review

The Brad Mehldau Trio's show is well-received – rapt attention, pin-drop silence, three encores, standing ovation – but some long-standing reservations remain, writes John Lewis

John Lewis

15, Nov, 2012 @6:02 PM

Jazz review: Brad Mehldau, Wigmore Hall, London

Wigmore Hall, London
Mehldau imbues the most straight-backed patterns with a thorough sense of swing, says John L Walters

John L Walters

13, Apr, 2009 @11:01 PM

Brad Mehldau | Jazz review

Wigmore Hall, London: The audience went into raptures at the end of Mehldau's trio gig on the second night of his Wigmore stint, says John Fordham

John Fordham

20, Oct, 2009 @9:15 PM

Jazz: Brad Mehldau Trio, Barbican, London

Barbican, London
Mehldau opened with a typically dreamy melody over a dabbing left-hand vamp, says John Fordham

John Fordham

21, Oct, 2008 @11:09 PM

Brad Mehldau/Chris Thile
Dylan's Don't Think Twice It's All Right brought the house down through Thile's sympathetic singing and increasingly animated improv-swapping between the pair, writes John Fordham

John Fordham

18, Sep, 2011 @4:54 PM

Article image
Brad Mehldau Trio review – searching, storytelling jazz at its finest
Mehldau is one of the contemporary form’s great improvisers, and with Jeff Ballard and Larry Grenadier he made unexpected but riveting connections

John Fordham

22, May, 2017 @1:52 PM

Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode – review
Brad Mehldau's first trio recording since 2008 – all original material this time – bears a lot of replaying, writes John Fordham

John Fordham

15, Mar, 2012 @10:15 PM

Brad Mehldau, Turner Sims Hall, Southampton

Turner Sims Hall, Southampton

John Fordham

09, Feb, 2006 @9:07 AM

Brad Mehldau, London jazz festival, London

London jazz festival, London

John Fordham

20, Nov, 2004 @1:41 AM