Brad Mehldau, as inquisitive a philosopher as he is a tirelessly curious jazz-piano virtuoso, believes that an alluring strangeness is key to an artwork’s longevity. A longtime Beatles fan, he hears that quality in the group’s mid-60s psychedelic metamorphosis – when their unfamiliar harmonies and quirky rhythms infiltrated pop through albums such as Rubber Soul and Revolver.
A classical piano student with prog-rock leanings in his teens and an enthusiasm for the Beach Boys, the Zombies and Bowie, Mehldau discovered the Beatles relatively late. He has periodically played their songs since the 1990s, but this 2020 Paris concert is an all-Beatles set, save for the Lennon-influenced David Bowie track Life on Mars?. After opening with I Am the Walrus, taking a hypnotic hook through to a rousing finale, Mehldau plays the title track as an early-jazz stride-piano piece (a nod to McCartney’s vaudeville leanings), I Saw Her Standing There as a driving boogie, and the original slow-rocking lament of Baby’s in Black as something hauntingly close to a gospel hymn. The Abbey Road lullaby Golden Slumbers gets steadily bluesier until it evaporates in glinting top-end whispers, and Life on Mars? is a whirling contrapuntal improvisation that brings the Philharmonie de Paris crowd to roars. This will be too much of a standards-like set for some, maybe – but even if Mehldau the solo pianist has had to trade rock’s muscularity for a chamber-musical delicacy, his power isn’t far beneath the surface.
Also out this month
On Prime (Mack Avenue), bass-star bandleader Christian McBride’s gleefully hip New Jawn quartet power through pieces by Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins, and originals spanning twisting time-bending themes, collective free-jazz frenzies, and Mingus-like laments. Sound on Stone (Discus) merges archive solo-piano recordings by the late great UK musician Keith Tippett with his wife Julie’s evocative vocals, recently added. The set includes a solemn, dissonantly shadowy Windmills of Your Mind, deep-soul tones against racing piano lines, and thrillingly multitracked choral effects, in a heartfelt tribute to their long-running improv duo, Couple in Spirit. On the unaccompanied Zurich Concert (Intakt), French bassist, composer and improviser Joëlle Léandre shows why she has long been a legend of European new music on a set of elementally stormy, pensive, dissonant and delicately melodious pieces. Solo-bass improv fans might be a smallish coterie, but if anyone can reach beyond them, Léandre can.