Mehliana: Taming The Dragon
I collected up whatever I could find by Brad Mehldau about a decade ago. He was the man. Covers of pop songs, live bop sets, classical noodlings, solo piano, with a trio or quartet – I just kept collecting his records. He couldn’t do anything wrong. And then I saw him live – and was so deeply underwhelmed. It was an utter snooze-fest. It’s been a long road back to Mehldau since that – but I’ve made my peace, I’ve enjoyed the recent jazz albums and this is really exciting. This is a duo record between Mehldau and hip-hop/jazz drummer Mark Guiliana.
You will hear those glistening piano strokes (Gainsbourg) but you’ll also hear Mehldau striking out across Fender Rhodes and some old synths – he mixes spacey, Krautrocking, fusion-y, prog/ish ideas in with the brittle funk and clipped hip-hop rhythms of Guiliana, together the duo makes a kind of instrumental hip-hop/funk that is easy to like, easy to drift away with. But there’s some really deep, dark, dirty textures too (Just Call Me Nige) and the opening waft of the title track reminds me of John Zorn’s Spillane, the stop/start, the protracted spoken-word, the groove.
Where Luxe is all Herbie Hancock dexterity on the one hand (as it were) it also reminds me of the textures from SJD’s Songs From A Dictaphone. There’s a lovely dance happening across this record too, the two instruments playing off one another, jostling and tussling (Hungry Ghost) and not so much vying for space as just saying the same things but in their respective ways, in their own musical language.
It’s an album that bursts with colour too. Clearly born out of improvisation, Mehldau and Guiliana have shaped some interesting ideas here. And my reconnection with Mehldau as an interesting and creative player is still safe, this transcends mere folly, it’s an engaging collection with such a perfect flow to it that even though it’s instrumental you almost hear it as a concept album, certainly it deserves to be taken in as a whole, as if a constructed sequence, a chosen landscape.