The Brad Mehldau Trio - Mehldau (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), Jorge Rossy (drums) - has been heralded as the new breed of piano trio and acclaimed for its unique simpatico. A recent stop at Seattle's premier jazz club, Dimitrou's Jazz Alley, showed why the young group is so highly regarded but left room for growth.
Mehldau has been regarded as the classic post-modern pianist - rough and ready and known for a combative edge and punk aloofness. There's more than a bit of the young Keith Jarrett's precocity in Mehldau. He pens his own liner notes in erudite, rambling prose, refuses to be a mere standard-bearing relic, and is as much Nirvana attitude as Bill Evans introspection. But the fact remains, his is a voracious musical mind that disregards the imaginary trappings built to keep pop, jazz and classical music forms from bleeding into one another.
All of this informs his music. That can be a problem and his playing at Jazz Alley showed some of the cerebral self-indulgence that can occasionally creep into his work. While he embodies the yin-yang of ease and tension at the heart of Evans' playing, he can sometimes seem too academic and deconstructive, too tentative and afraid of emotional depths. On an over-mannered "Time After Time", he seemed tethered, working the middle of the keyboard and unwilling to let his lyrical kite sail.
Yet he's capable of writing truly memorable, quirky and familiar melodies and unraveling them with fluid grace. On his own "Los Angeles" from his latest trio CD Places, he pecked out the simple melody with an aching emotional purity. On "29 Palms", he invoked the gospel vamps of Jarrett's richest work. And on "Madrid" he offered a bustling bounce that, frankly, one wanted more of.
His support team of Grenadier and Rossy is a pair of strong individual stylists equal to himself. Each has been making a name for himself in side projects over the past years and the outside work has only made the chemistry in the trio stronger. Grenadier was especially fine at the Jazz Alley, trumming and bowing his bass in an awkward but timely waltz. Rossy doesn't yet have the finesse of a Paul Motian (few do), but there are traces of the mature style of Jack DeJohnette in his playing - the muscular thrasher kept in check by the nuanced professional.
The Mehldau Trio as a whole is still a work in progress. But in time it might just achieve the level of musical alchemy of the Evans Trios, Jarrett's Peacock-DeJohnette group and Geri Allen's Haden-Motian trio. That's saying alot and the fact that one can make such leaps of fancy while rapt in their presence bodes well.