|Brad Mehldau - Largo|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 13 August 2002|
Brad Mehldau is not your typical jazz musician, since he always has one ear focused on the musical traditions started by guys like John Coltrane, and the other one trained on rock icons of the past and present. “Largo” is the kind of hip, keyboard-dominated jazz album even your typical slacker rocker might enjoy. Mehldau is a sort of new breed jazz musician who, like his previous employer Joshua Redman, doesn’t put a lot of unnecessary boundaries upon himself, or his choices of material. “Largo” was produced by Jon Brion, who is primarily known for his underground pop music work, and as the producer, he carries with him a slightly unorthodox approach to producing jazz. And in the oftentimes stuffy world of jazz, unorthodox can sometimes be a good thing.
The album’s title was inspired by Largo, a small Irish pub/restaurant on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles that is home to some of the hippest, most talented musicians on the music scene today. Largo audiences have been privy to intimate performances by artists such as Aimee Mann, Colin Hay of Men at Work, Tenacious D, Beck, Fiona Apple, David Garza and, of course, the resident Friday night sensation Jon Brion, to name just a few. To be so bold as to name an album after this Mecca of musical talent, where they’ll kick you out if your cell phone rings or you talk during a performance, the music better be good.
Mehldau’s instrumental take on Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” is the track that has garnered this album much of its rock press. In Mehldau’s hands, it sounds a bit symphonic as it goes from being light and airy, almost smooth jazz, to something a little more moody and progressive. But then again, “Sabbath,” with its big pounding groove and psychedelic guitar work, is every bit as rock-friendly. Beatles fans may be especially pleased by how Mehldau makes “Dear Prudence” swing. Then there’s the medley of “Wave/Mother Nature’s Son,” which incorporates a bleep-y counter melody into its semi-drum ‘n’ bass groove. Mehldau shows a deep appreciation for rock music on these tracks, and finds a lot more complexity in the style than one might have noticed on the first glance.
For those more attracted to selections without all the hip credentials and rock music reference points, “Dropjes” is a boppy little number, which features stuttered piano runs over nothing more than your basic bass and drums, and “I Do” is a simple, single piano ballad. Mehldau, who studied music at the esteemed Berklee College of Music, is not some jazz novice who also dabbles in pop: he digs both styles equally, and gives them each equal respect. With “Largo,” eclecticism is the true key.