Melhdau’s performance characteristics are immediately identifiable. He plays from a special folding stool.Each of his arms move together into positions that are between being completely outstretched to being bent well into themselves at the elbow. His fingers can gently stroke the keyboard or become crooked as hammers which pound on the keys resulting in an unmistakable pitch delivery. His left and right hands interact in patterns of playing heavy bass chords and harmonious treble chords, and combinations of heavy bass chords and light treble phrases and tunes. Sometimes his right hand crosses over into the bass and plays single notes and phrases while the left remains in the center of the keyboard. His back becomes arched or completely rounded. His head goes back as he arches his back. When he is entranced midst improvisation, his head tilts to the left and stays there for the duration.
The structure to Melhdau’s music coincides with somewhat traditional formats. His material is derived from familiar songbooks, rock, and his own compositions. There is a naturally rhythmic content in everything he does. Often the tune, the backbone of the piece, he introduces with overture-like proportions. But as he moves from the theme or tune of the piece he is playing, he transforms the music into a continuum that has its own world. The paces are elastic; the rhythm sometimes falls apart but returns often with a dissonance that takes the listener out of mind as the sound proceeds. Melhdau intersperses rests in the flow that are breathless, breathtaking. Chords cascade with the left hand and with the right, a melody expands, retards and cascades in harmony with the left. He can input boogie-woogie beats or ostinatos and arpeggiations to build up to the statement of a melody or play single notes, changing keys or rhythm, in the space between chords to do the same. The resonance is damped; sometimes the music is produced only within the limits of the middle of the keyboard. He plows into zones of musicality; these zones become the constant drive to evolve the music, develop the truth of the sound he makes. These spaces can last forever. Melhdau’s musical imagination is fertile. He holds the listener hostage to beauty and oneness with his journey through a special timing device. But, he returns to his themes, ever so quietly, as a matter of fact. In some ways, the fact that there even was a tune in the piece he has played does NOT matter. The melody becomes a place of origin, a place to begin.
And speaking of PLACES...Melhdau’s new CD on Warner Brothers Records is an exquisite recording. The extensive liner notes demonstrate his ability to communicate verbally as well. The CD is a balance between Melhdau’s working with Jorge Rossy on drums and Larry Grenadier on bass and Melhdau on solo piano. In the Trio cuts, the piano is the forerunner in noticeability; the bass and drums are sometimes so delicate in the way in which they offset the piano, it is as if the piano is being played all by itself. The group has been together for a long time. They are obviously comfortable together. That is unusual for a group these days. For a group to stay together is rare.
Melhdau is a musician, a poet, a philosopher, a believer in how he feels. The beauty that reflects his nature touches all those places that too often exist with longing & melancholy but which are managed by the creative mind with the neverending mapping of the flow of time.