Album review: "The Art of Trio Recordings: 1996-2001"
By Mike Joyce, Friday, January 27, 2012
When Brad Mehldau unveiled the first of five "The Art of the Trio" albums in 1997 while in his mid-20s, doubtless some jazz elders were amused by his audacity. Or was it naivete? No matter. As it turned out, the music recorded by the classically trained pianist and his exceptionally well-matched bandmates - bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy - lived up to its billing, as this absorbing seven-disc box set constantly reminds us.
All five albums in the series are collected here ("Progression: Volume 5" is a double CD), along with a disc of previously unreleased material. Evidence of Mehldau's eclectic tastes is everywhere. Reimagined tunes by Thelonious Monk, Radiohead and Nick Drake punctuate vintage pop standards, and a colorful selection of original pieces further reflect Mehldau's diverse influences. Yet as expansive as his trio repertoire is, what distinguishes this collection is a certain intimacy - an intuitive and highly interactive level of performance. A good thing, too, since Grenadier and Rossy certainly aren't cut out to play rigidly defined supporting roles.
The compilation concludes with five new live tracks and features a suitelike rendition of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." After thoughtfully evoking Frank Sinatra's way with a saloon song, the performance projects a haunting beauty of its own, with Mehldau leading the way.