Last night in the small but densely cultured town of Northampton, MA, in a club which Mehldau visits frequently, the SRO audience was vocally aghast at the Trio’s performance. There are good reasons why. First of all, these three musicians have been together for a long time. Their union, faithfulness and dedication to each other has allowed them to become one musical operation. Although Mehldau definitely holds sway in the group and therefore predominates, the bassist and drummer offer unmistakable ability to contrast and blend with the pianist. As they play, they are one instrument with three aspects. Their endurance, camaraderie, quiet community is baffling.
Mehldau’s unique characteristic to maintain a line can overpower the listener. Mehldau can alter a theme improvisationally in the same way that Bach can alter a composed line in a formal variation. Mehldau does this in a way in which no break distracts the continuity, in which no tangent on which the theme travels mars the attention of the listener, only invites the listener more deeply into the resonance of the hammering of the keys, the even spread and consistency of the chords, the remarkable unreverberant unfolding of textures that blanket the listener with layer upon layer of sonoral comfort.
Mehldau executes his explorations with landscapes of arm crossover chordal unisons, elbow-locked, highly controlled single-note fingered delicacies, huge repetitive phrasings that the listener does not want to let go of, but for which Mehldau has enough internal sense to convert into another system of rhythmic intent to gracefully guide the listener to yet another zone, whether it be dissonant, off beat or eloquently trilled. Often, Mehldau bears the rhythmic lead. His bass and treble lines are immutably balanced , even in their occasional one-finger off-balance. Grenadier and Rossy exude the talent and capacity to thread their instrument’s rhythmic basis within and without Mehldau’s streaming passages. Grenadier incorporates the steady mid-range thickness of his bass sound and Rossy inserts his unbelievably non-explosive, entirely centered stick and brush work into the entire scope of the ever undulating waves of sound.
The grooves that exist in the Trio’s playing come unexpectedly; the grooves are constructed gradually and all of a sudden, we are there, wrapped into an unrelenting dynamic that thrills the heart beat and the sensory glands. In some ways, it does not matter what the group is playing, be it a Mehldau composition, a Monk tune, a classic standard (in this case, "Someone To Watch Over Me"), a Brazilian piece, or a folk or rock piece, the range of what is played is so wide that it enriches the playing with every resource possible and in the long run empowers the Trio to do exactly what it has done and that is to create a sound that is paradoxically underivative and totally its own. This fact speaks to the genius of Mehldau and the ultimate commitment of Grenadier and Rossy to make things work.
It is the tightness, tension and the unadulterated strength of focus which gives this Trio its force, its spirit, its solidity. No musician of the three goes out of the bounds of the sound. The limits are strict but it is within those limits that so much music comes forth that it is awe-inspiring.
So, it is not a wonder that after a 90-minute concert of exceptional quality that the audience last night wanted more. The audience’s wish was granted, not once, but twice.
Outstanding, breathtaking. This world, this music, elegantly, bittersweetly addictive.