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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode

Ode is a traditional jazz record in that it features concise themes and long improvisations, with brilliant rhythmic play running throughout the trio’s incredible dialogue. It’s a high-wire act in the grand piano trio tradition, a clear heir to the likes of Bud Powell and Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner and in league with some of the recent quicksilver work from the mature Chick Corea. It’s hardly old-fashioned, but it’s a mature, solid piece of work. And it’s fantastic.

Mehldau will never seem like just another pianist, so it seems just fine that Ode has no particular gimmick. His playing is dashingly original by its very nature. Toward the end of the opening track, “M.B.”, for instance, Mehldau’s fiery solo becomes a duel between his left hand and right, each of which plays alternating single-note runs that develop naturally from the existing left-hand accompaniment. On “Twiggy”, one of his crystalline modern themes with a Latin feel, Mehldau plays it light and melodic, much like a pianistic Pat Metheny, but then spins the simple solo into something more ornate and intricate, the runs becoming faster and knottier over time. Imagination and technique jigsaw together when Mehldau plays.

Read the entire PopMatters review here:  Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode

Ode itself does not reach for epic dimension often, and that’s cool. It seems less like a manifesto or a film than like a very fine jazz album. Though the leading jazz pianists today are making lots of impressive statements about where the music is going, maybe creating a compelling album, old school, is still one of the music’s clearest callings. Ode fits the bill.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jazz's Wizard of Wit—and Much More—Dave Frishberg

On days when you might want your jazz with some wit and some delight, one sure solution is the music of pianist, songwriter and singer Dave Frishberg. Frishberg is most famous as the composer of a handful of incredibly funny and clever songs, many made famous first by singer Blossom Dearie.

“I’m Hip” is a monologue by a deluded beat-era hipster who thinks he’s utterly cool because “I even call my girlfriend ‘Man’”, set to a series of chord changes so tricky that the song is nearly unsingable. “Peel Me a Grape”, more recently done to sultry extreme by Diana Krall, is written in the voice of a woman who is perfectly up-front about the fact that she’s using her man for luxury and little more (“Don’t outthink me—just mink me”). And “My Attorney Bernie” is a celebration of an unscrupulous lawyer: “Thanks to you, my attorney Bernie / Thanks to you I’m considered well to do / Sure, I made out like a bandit exactly like you planned it / But like Murray, my accountant, told me yesterday—I owe it all to you”.

Indeed, as a solo performer and singer, the Frishberg-Woody comparison seems utterly on target. Frishberg’s appearance and age are similar to Allen’s. Both come off as spectacled nebbishes, perhaps—balding guys with a facility for smart wordplay and a weakness for New York City. Take a listen to Frishberg’s brilliant “Do You Miss New York” written from the point of view of someone who fled Gotham for the west coast (“Do you miss New York—the anger the action? Does this laidback lifestyle lack a certain satisfaction?”), and just try not to think of Allen’s take of Los Angeles from Annie Hall, a movie that Frishberg references in the song’s last verse.

But if that were all of Frishberg, a bunch of funny, impish songs, then I wouldn’t find myself returning to his work as often as I do. In fact, Frishberg is a musician and composer who covers the full range of moods and emotional keys. As a pianist, he’s one of a kind—straddling an amazing two-handed technique that starts with stride roots but fully absorbs bebop harmonies and modern rhythms. And as a writer of complex ballads and mood pieces, he’s a composer who goes far beyond yucks. 

Read the entire PopMatters article here: Jazz's Wizard of Wit—and Much More—Dave Frishberg