Nov 19 2012
Another lovely album by Brad Mehldau, who has to be considered one of modern Jazz’s vanguard artists. The music from Where Do You Start originates from the same recording session as his previous release Ode, but, here, Mehldau forgoes original compositions in favor of interpretations of the music of a disparate group of artists like Clifford Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Toninho Horta, Sonny Rollins, Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake.
Mehldau’s sound on piano is so distinct that I stopped worrying long ago that he might get lost in the weeds of the music of others. It’s a risk of doing covers, that the artist might wind up sounding more like the original composer than themselves. But not Mehldau, who has made a nice niche for himself by applying his talents to songs of the modern era (not to mention, helping develop a modern Songbook for a new generation of jazz artists).
Your album personnel: Brad Mehldau (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Jeff Ballard (drums).
Best album track is his cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Holland.” Mehldau pinpoints the simmering tension hinted at in Sufjan’s wispy tune, and he lets it blossom with dramatic effect. Coming in a close second is Mehldau’s interpretation of Toninho Horta’s “Aquelas Coisas Todas,” which, actually, is a good match for Mehldau, as he displays the same dynamic proficiency with harmonies as Horta, but gives his version a snappy jaunt in contrast to Horta’s mellower propulsion.
Two other tracks worth noting…
One, Mehldau’s adaptation of Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” I like the original, but it’s one of those songs that too many people have covered already, and now anyone else who covers it is greeted with a reluctant exhaustion. Mehldau’s take on it, thankfully, rises to the level I’ve come to expect from him. The two aspects I find most appealing about his rendition is the staggered cant he applies rhythmically, accenting beats to effect a delectable push and pull cadence. Also, Grenadier launches into sections with a serious gusto that really gives the song some heart.
Two, he covers Nick Drake’s soul-crushing heartbreak song “Time Has Told Me,” and further proves that the Drake songbook may be as difficult to crack as any out there. I’ve yet to hear someone really really pull off a great Drake cover, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with Mehldau’s version, there’s also nothing laudably special about it either.
But overall, this is yet another excellent Mehldau recording. When I look through my music library and cd shelves and see all the fantastic albums he’s put out, and then realize how often I still listen to each of them, it makes me want to proclaim that no other modern jazz artist has been so exceptionally prolific. Omer Avital, Esbjorn Svensson, Bill Frisell and Guillermo Klein all spring to mind as counterarguments, but none of those names shoot the Mehldau assertion out of the water. When people ask who are the Coltranes, the Monks, the Davis’s of the day… Mehldau is one of those names I immediately offer up. And there’s a bunch of reasons for that.
The best song covers make you forget the original, however briefly. Mehldau does this better than anybody.
Released on the Nonesuch Records label.
Jazz from NYC.