Brad Mehldau: 10 Years Solo Live – Album Review
10 Years Solo Live
“It is actually strange, this whole business of performance,” says pianist Brad Mehldau in the essay that accompanies this towering, expansive, utterly magnificent collection of solo performances culled from 10 years of touring. “It has never grown normal for me, really. It is a direct, intense kind of empathy with a group of total strangers that lasts around 90 minutes. And then, it’s over, and everyone goes home.”
Strange it may be, but live performance is the natural habitat of the improvising musician. Jazz happens in the moment, and it has become commonplace, particularly at the highest levels, to record every concert. The microphones are there anyway, and the presence of the audience gives the performance an intensity that is hard to replicate alone in a studio.
For 10 Years Solo Live, the pianist surveyed 40 such recordings, and the 32 tracks here, amounting to 300 minutes of music, are culled from 19 different European performances, from the Wigmore Hall in London in 2004 to the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels last year.
The selections are spread over four CDs (or eight LPs for the vinyly inclined) that each unfold like complete concerts. And though understandably, Mehldau has selected only performances that he thinks bear repeated listening, there is a remarkable consistency – not necessarily in the repertoire, which ranges freely from Johannes Brahms to Jerome Kern to Kurt Cobain – but in the fecundity of the pianist’s mind. Whether he is playing Brahms’s Intermezzo in B-flat major or a song by his beloved Radiohead, Mehldau is instantly recognisable, not only in the virtuoso technique and the astonishing independence of his hands, but in the intelligence with which he develops his material, pushing it through theme and variation, examining and re-examining a melody until it dissolves in a joyous cascade of overlapping ideas.
To listen intently is to engage in the tangle of a great musician’s mind, one whose influence may now be discerned in pretty much every jazz pianist that has come after him. Nothing can replace the thrill of actually being in the room when Mehldau is in the act of creation, but 10 Years Solo Live is a close second.