Largo – Brad Mehldau

Largo

Brad Mehldau

2002

Nonesuch

I mentioned numerous times before, but I get a huge nerd-boner for anything that has to do with Jon Brion.  As both a producer and a musician, he’s an absolute genius.  Put him in the studio with one of the most talented Jazz pianists, and you’ll come out with Largo, an extremely interesting album of Jazz instrumentals featuring Mehldau’s piano skills.  This record shows off the versatility of Mehldau, jumping from engaging instrumentals to odd reworkings of already popular songs.  Although, a major critique about Jazz is that many find it boring to listen to, I genuinely believe Largo has enough content to grasp on to, that even an avid Nickelback fan would find something to like.  

Songs like “You’re Vibing Me” and the opener “When it Rains” show off Brad Mehldau’s unique phrasing of his piano melodies.  Accompanied by bass, drums, flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, the latter song has a mellow head, easing the listener into the song and subsequently, the album.  By making the themes to his original tracks memorable (another good example being “I Do”) and effortlessly identifiable, Mehldau creates fascinating hooks, allowing us to be sucked in to each piece.  While most of the songs follow the Jazz standard of playing the head followed by improvised soloing, this format doesn’t get tiring from this pianist.  Mehldau, with Brion at the production helm, has enough tricks to keep things moving.  The repetition of certain notes, the palatable dynamics of his style, the interplay of his two hands even — these mannerisms all command a certain attention, adding to the enjoyability.  And then, with songs like “Sabbath,” the album heads into strange territory, throwing heavier, and unconventional sounds all over.

However, what really keeps the album flowing his Mehldau’s attention to the cover songs.  It’s not often a Jazz musician will add Radiohead to his repertoire, but Largo features a mind-blowing rendition of “Paranoid Android.”  The song’s arrangement stays pretty much intact, with some additional piano tinkering thrown in.  However, even with the soloing, the main focus is on Mehldau’s execution of the well-known song.  Instead of Thom Yorke’s recognizable, sustained vocals, Mehldau swaps in staccato piano notes.  What’s cool is how heavy the song can get in this version — the percussive ensemble (most likely an influence of Brion’s) sets the tone from the beginning, and the quickened pace halfway through is contrasted by the soft second part, which is again antithetical to the rambunctious closing.  The album also gives similar treatments to two Beatles’ songs, “Dear Prudence”  (which is a gorgeous rendition) and “Mother Nature’s Son” (which is combined with an original to make “Wave/”Mother Nature’s Son”).

Look, he knows he’s good. He doesn’t need your approval. But it would still be nice.

So yeah, Largo is quirky enough of a Jazz album to warrant being listened to by pretty much anyone with ears.  Brad Mehldau is phenomenal at what he does, and even if you don’t like Jazz, I’d still suggest finding this gem somewhere.  The original instrumentals hit different moods perfectly, and the mere fact that he covers Rock songs — let alone, doing them fantastically — provides a quality that not many other musicians present.

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