A major figure on the international jazz scene since the early 1990s, we take a chronological look at 9 essential Brad Mehldau albums which put the pianist firmly at the forefront of modern music.
Born on 23rd August 1970 in Jacksonville, Florida, the young Brad Mehldau quickly emerged as a prodigious talent, taking command of the family piano at an early age.
Over the years he has seamlessly woven the fabric of pop, classical and the jazz tradition into an extraordinary career tapestry.
Perhaps you’re familiar with his early ’90s stints with alto saxophonists Christopher Hollyday and Perico Sambeat? His prolific 17-year stint on the Warner record label? His treatment of everyone from The Beatles to Bach?
Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just looking to start diving deeper into his music, we’ve got you covered with this chronological trip through some of the most essential Brad Mehldau albums of the modern era.
Introducing Brad Mehldau (1995)
Presenting the pianist with two different rhythm sections over the two sessions, this is an impressive album that stands the test of time well, albeit with a slight sense of schizophrenia.
McBride and Blade are very different players to Grenadier and Rossy, and their accompaniment and contribution lends a different feel to Mehldau’s approach to the material. This is most apparent on the up tempo numbers but is also discernible on the ballads too.
As such, the most interesting music comes from the trio with Grenadier and Rossy; there’s a less obvious drive and more implied swing, as heard on a fascinating version of ‘Countdown’.
The trio’s handling of ballads is particularly breathtaking on the track ‘My Romance,’ and their use of space within the music is often daring.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier (tracks 1-5), Christian McBride (tracks 6-9) – bass; Jorge Rossy (tracks 1-5), Brian Blade (tracks 6-9) – drums.
Recorded March 13 and April 3, 1995
The Art of the Trio Volume One (1996)
Retaining the services of Grenadier and Rossy in a unit which would remain together until 2005, Mehldau set about establishing himself and his trio as one of the most important groups.
With settled personnel and a developing rapport that was to reach extraordinary levels, the trio set upon the task of presenting jazz standards and Mehldau’s compositions in their own distinctive style.
They swing with a lightness that is deceptive on ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ and handle the intricacies of ‘Lucid’ by Mehldau with ease. Again, the sense of timing and space is compelling, as showcased on ‘Blame It On My Youth’ and ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier – bass; Jorge Rossy – drums.
Recorded September 4–5, 1996
The Art of the Trio Volume 4: Back At The Vanguard (1999)
Two years after the previous live recording at the NYC’s Village Vanguard in The Art of the Trio Volume 2, Mehldau is back at the iconic venue with another set drawn from standards and originals.
Whilst the trio takes a fresh look at classic ‘All The Things You Are’ and the gently swinging ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, it’s a fine reading of Miles Davis’s ‘Solar’ and Mehldau’s own ‘Nice Pass’ that are the most riveting pieces.
’Nice Pass’ has a melodic curve that does not quite go the way one expects, and the trio take delight in this and their subsequent exploration of the composition.
Just listen to how Rossy and Grenadier are with the pianist at every twist and turn.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier – bass; Jorge Rossy – drums. Recorded January 5–10, 1999
Mehldau’s first solo piano album was recorded less than a month after the recording from the Village Vanguard, and shows a different side to the pianist.
With little in the way of swing in this set of all original compositions, we hear the classical pianist in Mehldau. The music is more formally structured and free flowing improvisations are replaced with a studied delivery.
‘Memory’s Trick’ is a prime example, and even at its most expansive the pianist has a firm hand on the tiller.
Brad Mehldau – piano
Recorded February 1–2, 1999
This is an ambitious Brad Mehldau album features all original compositions and a much larger cast of musicians than previously heard in his discography.
For those looking for the pianist in a straight-ahead jazz setting, this album will disappoint. But it once again shows Mehldau’s developing compositional style, incorporating his interest in classical music as well as pop and rock.
Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ gets an interesting reading, as does Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Dear Prudence’. The heavy rock beat on ‘Dusty Nugget’ and the use of electronics and post-production on ‘Sabbath’ take some adjusting to, but there is no mistaking who the pianist is.
Brad Mehldau – piano, vibes, prepared piano; Larry Grenadier (tracks 1, 2 & 9), Darek Oleszkiewicz (tracks 2-6, 8, 10 & 11) – bass; Matt Chamberlain – drums, percussion, tabla (tracks 1-11); Jim Keltner – drums, snare drum, vibraphone (tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Victor Indrizzo (tracks 4, 10 & 11), Jorge Rossy (tracks 2 & 9) – drums, percussion; Jon Brion – guitar synthesizer, guitar treatments, percussion (tracks 4, 5 & 11); Justin Meldal-Johnsen – electric bass (tracks 4, 10 & 11); Peter Mandell, Rose Corrigan – bassoon (tracks 1 & 12); Emile Bernstein, Gary Gray – clarinet (tracks 1 & 12); David Shostac, Steve Kujala – flute (tracks 1 & 12); Earle Dumler, Jon Clark – oboe (tracks 1 & 12); Daniel Kelley, Philip Yao – French horn (tracks 3 & 6); William Reichenbach – trombone (tracks 3 & 6); George B. Thatcher – bass trombone (tracks 3 & 6)
Recorded April 2–8, 2001
Anything Goes (2002)
On what would turn out to be his final album for Warner, Anything Goes is nothing short of an ingenius offering that is a curtain call on his time with the label.
After taking a diversion for his previous album, here the pianist is back with his longstanding trio playing his usual mix of standards and pop songs.
With no originals this time out, Mehldau takes some liberties with a startlingly original take on ‘Get Happy’ that teases the listener as he flirts with the melody.
Thelonious Monk’s ‘Skippy’ is given a wonderfully deceptive outing, and there are two fine ballads in ‘The Nearnes of You’ and ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face’.
The material might be a little predictable, but these performances by Mehldau are anything but.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier – bass; Jorge Rossy – drums
Recorded October 8–9, 2002
Day Is Done (2005)
This killer Brad Mehldau album announces the arrival of a new label in Nonesuch, and a new trio with drummer Jeff Ballard taking over from Jorge Rossy.
Neither Mehldau nor the ensemble’s latest drummer opts for dramatic departures in style or form. Instead, they contribute to a seamless narrative, subtly and confidently marking the commencement of a fresh chapter in the trio’s evolving story.
Mehldau seems to derive much joy from the chosen repertoire, offering an intense and focused solo piano interpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Martha My Dear.’
The pianist has played several songs by the Liverpudlian song writing partners over the years and indeed tries his hand with another in ‘She’s Leaving Home’, this time with the trio.
The real highlights of the album, however, are evident in two longer tracks: Chris Cheek’s ‘Granada,’ which features an interesting theme that Mehldau and his companions delve into, and a dynamic interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘Knives Out’.
A great debut album for the new trio.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier – bass; Jeff Ballard – drums Recorded March 13 & 14, 2005
After Bach (2017)
Once again showing his love of classical music, Mehldau offers up music by Johann Sebastian Bach, taking his cue from the composer’s The Well Tempered Clavier.
This is by no means a jazz recording, but as Mehldau aficionado Euan Dixon wrote in his review of the album for Jazz Views:
“Mehldau’s After Bach is quite a different kettle of fish. Here he presents four Bach preludes and one fugue, played as scored, which he complements with seven of his own original compositions, drawing dense contrapuntal elements from the original pieces and melding them with cadences and harmonies of a more impressionistic and chromatic nature to create a wholly new synthesis which possesses a profound emotional depth.
Mehldau’s approach to improvisation has always employed classical allusions as evidenced by his other solo projects but in this he makes no attempt to add what might be identified as jazz elements, however those who derive pleasure from his well-crafted introspective manoeuvres will find this a deeply satisfying release…”
Brad Mehldau – piano
Recorded April 18–20, 2017
Seymour Reads the Constitution! (2018)
Released in 2018 after the trio with Grenadier and Ballard had been active as a unit for thirteen years, Mehldau is still finding ways to ensure that his albums with the group are as interesting and vital as ever.
The title track apparently came to him in a dream, but there is nothing dreamy about the music. In a knotty improvisation the pianist takes a logical and thought-provoking solo that is totally absorbing.
It’s also good to hear the pianist tackle Sam River’s ‘Beatrice’ with some solidly inventive support from bass and drums, and a piece from the oft-neglected Elmo Hope catalogue with his composition ‘De Dah’. No mere doffing of the hat but a heartfelt tribute to Hope.
Brad Mehldau – piano; Larry Grenadier – bass; Jeff Ballard – drums
Round Up: Essential Brad Mehldau Albums
From his early beginnings to his groundbreaking fusion of classical, pop, and jazz, Brad Mehldau’s albums serve as milestones in a storied career that has cemented his place as an iconic jazz pianist.
Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or a newcomer to Mehldau’s work, these albums offer a fascinating window into his artistic evolution.
With collaborators ranging from Larry Grenadier to Brian Blade, and a genre-spanning repertoire from jazz standards to Radiohead covers, Mehldau’s versatility and innovation never cease to captivate.
If you’re keen on discovering more about the modern jazz era, or if you wish to delve into each layer of Mehldau’s intricate compositions, these albums are an essential listening experience.