Concert Review: Brad Mehldau Trio, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK

Last night, May 17, 2017, I got to see Brad Mehldau live for the first time. I’ve been a fan of his music ever since I chanced on one of his albums on the iTunes Store back in the early days. For years, I would buy his albums as they were released on the iTunes Store, and then eventually on CD. I’m not a big jazz fan, but Mehldau is one of the jazz artists I like a great deal, and of whom I have many of their recordings; other are Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

Brad mehldau

I managed to score front-row tickets for the show, right in front of the piano; the best place to be. The venue is a smallish theater, about 600 seats, and it was full.

It was a wonderful concert, though it was marred by poor sound for the first few songs. After the second song, when Brad picked up the microphone to tell the audience what the songs were, a couple of people pointed out that they couldn’t hear the piano. As I was sitting just a few feet away, I could hear it, but it was pretty low in the mix; the drums overwhelmed the piano. But in the middle of the third song, the sound technician fixed the mix. Since the only speakers were on the front of the stage, it seemed to me that they were simply not on at the beginning. Oops. Nevertheless, aside from a bit of “feedback” sound in part of the piano, as Mehldau said, the rest of the concert sounded fine.

Brad Mehldau is an extraordinarily creative pianist, and the other members of the trio are also excellent musicians. Larry Grenadier on bass kept the music grounded, and Jeff Ballard on drums was one of the best drummers I’ve seen live. His drumming goes far beyond rhythm and is very musical. Jus listen to any of the trio’s live recordings to hear how good these musicians are, and how tight an ensemble they are.

The program for the show, which lasted about 1:45, was as follows:

Untitled original blues
Untitled original
Untitled original waltz
And I Love You
The Green Deva
Si tu vois ma mère

Encores:
River Man
It’s All Right with Me

The first three originals were pretty new; Mehldau and the other musicians had charts for them. After that, the arrangement of And I Love You (the Beatles song) was lyrical and moving. The Green Deva, another original, was intricate, and Si tu vois ma mère, a Sidney Bechet song that the trio has been playing live for several years, was slow and mellow.

The two encores were perfect, and showed the range of Mehldau’s music. His arrangement of Nick Drake’s River Man is one of my favorite of the songs he performs, and the Cole Porter song It’s All Right with Me brings in a quirky which was well suited to the final song.

It’s worth noting that all of these songs were quite long; at least ten minutes, if not more. I checked my watch after the first three songs, and 45 minutes had passed. As often in Mehldau’s live shows, the songs stretch out with improvisations and solos, and the band showed off its skills on each number.

I’m very happy to have been able to hear this concert, especially from the front row, and I’ll try to see Brad Mehldau every time he comes to the UK in the future. He’s playing in Bath in two days, and I wish I had bought tickets for that show as well.