The first time I heard Mehldau was with the Josh Redman quintet. Since Mehldau has gone out on his own, having recorded 4 trio CDs, one studioand three live dates at the Village Vanguard, he has blossomed. His piano playing is exquisite. And I feel free to really ask the question: What is he going to be like when he grows up?
Mehldau's playing has been likened to Bill Evans and I can hear a little Keith Jarrett in him but, on the whole, Mehldau has developed a style that is distinctly his own. The fluidity and constancy is immaculate. His control over the keys is startling. It seems like he does not miss one note. His repertoire is expanding. He has moved beyond standards and is exploring the shapes of his own music. He creates more sound with his fingers than motion in his body. Often the whole top of his body disappears and I can only see his hands. He is in a trance when he plays. In an opposite manner, he often stretches his arms full length, his back is fully straight and his head sits in a direct line from where his hands and fingers work the keyboard. But it is not really working that he does. His fingers hit every note; his confidence is so evident about the language he speaks with the piano keys that it is dumb-founding. His often crooked right hand fingers pound out one note after the other constructing tunes, while the left hand, laying flat,backs the right with unadulterated chords.
What makes Mehldau remarkable and separates him from other pianists is his phrasing that stays at one pace and then moves into another without notice; the tempos are selected with the ultimate appropriateness. His timing is exceptional. Of course, he hangs in single successive note groups that make repetitive patterns but these are complemented at just the right point with a change in key, a gesture with a chord, a scalar run up the treble, a bass hand inclusion. Often, his left hand hangs in the air, close to thekeyboard as his right hand plays limitless improvisational melodic trains. His eyes are closed the entire time he plays. Often, when a piece seems to be ending, it is moving into another phase. Incredibly easily, in a mesmerizing continuum.
Grenadier and Rossy create an excellent rhythm section for Mehldau; the two have evolved as an active ambient backdrop for him. The three have played together so long that they are one instrument. None overpowers the other. Yet, Mehldau quietly assumes the lead. One of his Evan-esque traits is that he grabs at chords on the piano when either the bass or drums are peaking towards solo sections. Their solo sections are not explosive but serve to show their gentle temperaments which are completely in keeping with Mehldau. Grenadier and Rossy are both are at ease when listening to Mehldau. They often rest with their instruments, heads bowed.
One distinction of this concert was an instrumental conversation amongst the three. It was notable that this was the first point at which Mehldau sat out. But not for long. The bass went in and out in relation with the drums; then the piano would lead, then the drums, then the bass, and on and on. Each time the instrument that was active would lift the music to bridge to another musical statement given by another instrument. This style of playing was quite effective because there was no landing until, for instance, Mehldau stretched out his arms, his hands poised at the keyboard, and he would play the last chord to close the piece.
Mehldau does not play sleepy music. His music is so well-stated and executed that I could not help but be amazed by how he expresses himself. His musicianship is full, rich and has quality oozing out at its seams. It would be a real mistake to miss seeing this trio. The music that comes from this group is even, sensual, pleasurable and truthful. What more could the listener want.