Thursday, January 26, 2006

music: Brad Mehldau trio & Bill Frisell quintet - insistent occasional loveliness/ unforced oddness

I'd seen Brad Mehldau solo once before and Bill Frisell a couple of times.

Brad Mehldau is swing-free with no ability to sell a melody, but he makes you hear his dense improvisations as brand new ideas. His drummer Jeff Ballard was excellent. My favorite was the Beatles' "She is Leaving" whose majestic aching counterpoint melodies are well suited to his two-handed style. He played "Blackbird" the previous time and made much of its transition from monotonic "blackbird-singing-in-the" to the strange exploding melody of "take-these-broken-wings-and-learn-to-fly". He has to do an album of Beatles covers!

Bill Frisell comes out and soon after his spidery guitar work spills out, about 5% of the audience heads for the exits! Their loss; even with five musicians the sense of space in his music is immense. That spaciousness and the deceptive simplicity is what makes it sound so American, making me wonder at one point if he tossed in the melody from "Give me a home where the buffalo roam." And also stretches where the quintet sounded like a New Orleans funeral band recovering from an LSD hangover! His arpeggios and looping effects seem to unravel the threads of the music as much as they knit it together, so like Brad Mehldau you're hearing it new now. A lovely guitar part morphed into a staccato version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now" (... is love, sweet love). Like "She is Leaving", another waltz.

They just got better and better until the second encore turned into Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". Apart from the bass line they played it pretty much as the original classic Motown arrangement. The bridge where Marvin scats over a lush arrangement is perfectly suited to Frisell's building arpeggio lines. By the time he returned to the "Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong" verse, I wasn't the only one wiping away tears. I have to get that performance!

There are so many pointless remakes in pop (recently "Big Yellow Taxi", "It's My Life", "I'm a Believer", and "Is She Really Going Out With Him") that add nothing to the original; hearing a tune reharmonized and reimagined is one of the great pleasures of jazz.

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