The jazz-going public’s opinion of the pure pianism of the Brad Mehdau Trio has never been equivocal. When the pianist presented a set using synthesizers and electronics at the Barbican with Mark Guiliana in 2013 he was heckled in a way that recalled the reception of Bob Dylan’s adoption of electric guitar decades before (and maybe the quieter disquiet over Bill Evans’ use of the Fender Rhodes in his later years).
Critics often concurred with the audience. Jazz Journal’s Simon Adams noted that at that concert the music sounded “like a Daft Punk outtake or something synth-popsters Air or Zero 7 might have produced in the early 2000s, although there are also menacing hints of Vangelis in his pomp”. JJ’s Garry Booth found the attendant album “In a word, dystopian. In two words, prog rock” and noted that “the qualities that are most closely associated with Mehldau’s music are absent”.
Those qualities didn’t rely on the exclusion of non-jazz material, but rather profited from its assimilation. The pop impulse wasn’t new in Mehldau’s work – he had long offered jazz interpretations of music by the Beatles, Oasis, Radiohead and others. But what audience and critics found most appealing was the interpretation of such themes – plus jazz standards, bebop and classical strains – through the medium of unplugged jazz piano in the company of Mehldau’s longstanding trio with Larry Grenadier (b) and Jeff Ballard (d). The trio’s approach to such repertoire can be seen in action in Burghausen in 2008:
Now, as part of a European tour that begins in Utrecht on 5 March and ends with four nights at the New Morning club in Paris, the same venerated trio returns to the Barbican in London on 9 March. Tickets and more information for the London concert can be found on the website of concert promoters Serious. Any exhortation on this occasion to “Play the piano!” is likely to be entirely confirmatory.