Concert review: Brad Mehlau Quintet at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival

Brad Mehldau Quintet
TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
TD Main Stage
Reviewed Wednesday

In Marion Dewar Plaza on Wednesday night time, pianist Brad Mehldau and his bandmates returned to their roots however didn’t relive the previous.

The revered 48-year-old American pianist, a number one jazz mild of his era for half of his life, was on the most important stage with outdated and new pals, taking part in the form of arduous bop tunes that that they had in all probability minimize their tooth on as youngsters.

But now, they approached the basic materials not simply to render it appropriately as per the model of yesteryear’s jazz and as different musicians would possibly rigorously take as their mandate. Instead, they tackled the music with all the modern liberties and effusive persona of world-class musicians with nothing to show anymore.

Mehldau, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Leon Parker additionally offered a welcome jazz incursion on the TD Main Stage, making the form of acoustic instrumental music that when prevailed throughout the competition’s long-running Concerts Under the Stars sequence, however which has since been displaced by extra mass-appeal sounds.

Mehldau and his new group, which was taking part in its eighth gig after forming earlier this month, drew a receptive, beyond-mid-sized crowd to the plaza. Sure, the viewers was smaller than the plaza-filling multitude that took in Chicago and Norah Jones earlier throughout the competition. But Mehldau’s quintet delivered musical delights that the others didn’t, together with heat, glowing swinging and the overarching feeling that something might occur.

One factor is definite. Mehldau and his listeners had been united by aid that the unhealthy climate forecast for the night (extreme thunderstorms with the chance of a twister) by no means materialized. Instead, the night time was good for having fun with jazz of impeccable lineage and considerable creativity.

The quintet’s prolonged set consisted of:

Blues in C (Brad Mehldau)
Besame Mucho (Consuelo Velázquez)
Chain Reaction (Hank Mobley)
Pannonica (Thelonious Monk)
Straight Ahead (Kenny Dorham)

Encore:
Straight Street (John Coltrane)

The opener set the tone for the night time as the band delved into the most time-honoured tune type in jazz however discovered a world of prospects in its 12 bars.

The music was roomy, affected person and malleable, rooted in the jazz language however open to every kind of spontaneous, natural feints and departures. It didn’t take lengthy for brand spanking new harmonies, bass notes and grooves to shunt apart the typical ones. Mehldau, Akinmusire and Frahm uncorked solos that had been grounded in the chosen materials however wended far afield. The rhythm part’s backdrop behind soloists morphed due to in-the-moment selections, not the least of which had been decisions by Mehldau, Sanders or Parker to not play.

Throughout the night time, highlights abounded.

There was the approach through which Mehldau and Frahm, whose musical historical past dates again to their highschool days in Connecticut, performed the blues whereas not taking part in the blues on the pianist’s Ornette Coleman-ish blues.

There was Akinmusire’s hyper-motific solo on Besame Mucho, which Mehldau had recast as a shiny, lilting waltz — “a beautiful romantic song,” he later introduced — for which he rendered the melody.

Also on Besame Mucho, there was Mehldau’s prolonged, swaggering cruise on the tune’s outro, which was a charged and juicy rejoinder to anybody who thought he had been holding again on this quintet format. (He was the uncontested star when his trio performed the jazz competition’s most important stage twice in the 2000s.)

There was Frahm’s fondness for quotes, which on the Mobley-penned Minor Blues included permutations of Surrey with the Fringe on Top, Invitation and Witch Hunt — however who’s counting? Of course, other than its puckish quoting, Frahm’s taking part in bubbled over with ear-catching inventiveness and strong, optimistic feeling.

There was Parker’s physique percussion / human beat field tour de drive on Straight Ahead, the rhythm changes-based tune that in the arms of Mehldau’s band was not so straight forward, but straight forward.

On any given tune, there was Parker’s stripped down however extremely propulsive and centred taking part in. Just a few seconds of his buoyant trip cymbal taking part in had as a lot affect as a fusillade of notes from many different drummers. It wouldn’t be shocking if one huge purpose for Mehldau’s band taking part in this month was the pianist’s want to reunite with the one-of-a-kind drummer with whom, if I’m not mistaken, he’d final made music with in the 1990s.

Come to consider it, there was additionally Parker’s transfixing introduction from behind his package to Straight Ahead, which made it really feel for a second like all was proper in the world.

Mehldau and his friends are sometimes concerned in additional high-stakes music, taking part in extra illustrious halls and making data for posterity that jazz tastemakers consider as state of the artwork. The pianist’s newest tasks have been staggeringly bold, adjoining his personal improvising with the music of Bach or crafting distinctive, hard-hitting digital protest music to bear witness in the time of Trump.

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Wednesday night time’s live performance was extra low-key and admirably free than all of that, about taking part in jazz as a result of typically jazz is all you want.

The Mehldau quintet has yet one more live performance on its itinerary, at the Montreal International Jazz Festival tonight. The good cash is on it being super-heavy with out attempting to be heavy. But what is going to occur after?

“This will really be a try-and-see venture,” Mehldau advised this newspaper earlier than his band performed its mid-June week at the Village Vanguard in New York. “If it works out and everybody enjoys it, I imagine we‘d like to continue with more gigs.”

We can solely hope that Mehldau’s quintet doesn’t wink out of existence after tonight. But if that’s the case, it’s going to have left lovely reminiscences.

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