Who inspired jazz pianist Brad Mehldau to record a solo album of elegiac music? The list is long. Judging by the extensive liner notes Mehldau wrote for the recording, he's given the subject of death, loss and impermanence a great deal of thought while pondering the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Thomas Mann, William Burroughs, Alan Ginsburg, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans and John Coltrane, among others.
Although Beethoven and Schumann provided the inspiration for cyclical forms -- and, in Beethoven's case, a familiar thematic fragment to boot -- Mehldau is frequently improvising at the keyboard. Variations of the longing and sometimes brooding melodies flow in circular patterns punctuated by unexpected tangents, so that at times Mehldau sounds as if he's filtering the age of Romanticism through the ears of a modern jazz musician. Juxtaposing graceful reflections with a percussive attack or low register rumblings, Mehldau invests these pieces with bittersweet lyricism ("Goodbye Storyteller) and surging emotions ("Trailer Park Ghosts") and creates an unusually intimate and soulful recital.
Still, it's not easy to recommend this album to dyed-in-the-wool jazz fans, unless they're already familiar with Mehldau's impressive trio recordings or share the pianist's interest in laments. Suffice to say, "Elegiac Cycle" radiates a dark beauty.
Appearing Tuesday at Blues Alley.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Brad Mehldau, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)