Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsJazz

JAZZ REVIEW

Mehldau challenges a tested formula

October 06, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Brad Mehldau's performance at the Knitting Factory on Saturday posed a question that reached beyond the qualitative aspects of a single performance.

That question was directly related to Wynton Marsalis' assertion that any definition of jazz has to include three elements: improvisation, a sense of swing, and the use of scales associated with the blues. One can argue that the definition is too limited, but its historical relevance is hard to dispute.

Mehldau's pianism asked, figuratively, whether it is possible to not only widen the fundamentals but replace them with differing elements. His rendering of Harold Arlen's "Get Happy" provided a case in point.

In the opening, the melody surfaced through a patterned rhythmic accompaniment by bassist Larry Grenadier. Next, a drum solo by Jorge Rossy was followed by a lengthy piano passage and an eventual return to the opening theme. As in the rest of the set, the rhythms were syncopated rather than swinging, suggesting the image of jazz rather than the propulsion that has always been its life force. Of the blues, there was nothing other than what Mehldau inserted during one of his many quotes from Thelonious Monk.

The central element of "Get Happy," Mehldau's impromptu, offered a kind of classically founded approach to improvisation, filled with etude-like scales and arpeggios, contrary motion passages and virtuosic displays of one-handed playing. Reversing the once popular practice of jazzing the classics, Mehldau's music was instead a display of classic-ing the jazz -- with similarly inconsequential results.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|