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CD Review: Brad Mehldau – Largo – Warner Bros.

Many music fans feel that jazz is just out of their grasp. It may be the lack of the standard verse-chorus-verse formula present in mainstream pop music, or the prejudgment that all jazz is boring or worse – ìsmooth jazz.î With Largo, pianist Brad Mehldau attempts to bridge the gap.

ìWhen It Rains,î the opening track, starts and ends like a ballad. In between, as the band joins in, the sound is more uptempo, so the song ends up much like some of McCoy Tynerís post-John Coltrane works.

ìDropjesî spirals from the speaker, with irreverent sci-fi-like noises thrown in here and there. Thereís even something resembling a wah-wah dropping the funk in this song. Mehldau shows his stamina late when he repeats the same vigorous measure for about 30 seconds.

The highlight of this album is ìParanoid Android,î a rendition of Radioheadís biggest hit. The nine-minute cover starts out with soft percussion, and then Mehldau lays down the sweetly reminiscent melody with perfect precision. In the second segment, the percussion section returns with ferocity, a cacophony well matched with Mehldauís frenetic keywork. During the bridge, Mehldau switches it up, showing off his classically trained chops beautifully.

Mehldau throws another curve with ìSabbath,î a song devoted to the musical stylings of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Ozbourneís first band. It features only drummer Matt Chamberlain and Mehldau on heavily distorted keyboard, replete with whammy pedal, making for a heavy metal feel. Chamberlain performs admirably on various percussion elements throughout the album.

ìFree Willyî goes in a completely different direction. Mehldau applies a technique of placing putty onto the bottom two octaves of the piano, which sounds like a hybrid of an upright bass and those wood chimes you hear at Busch Gardens. Mehldau displays the full percussive exploits of the piano. After a calming moment, Mehldau plays the low octaves vigorously, with the accompaniment of a cello-sounding bass.

Thereís a Latin feel to ìAlvarado.î On this number, Mehldau again shows his classical leanings, joined by Chamberlain on Tabla percussion.

Also on the album are two Beatles numbers, the ballad ìDear Prudenceî and an energetic version of ìWave/Mother Natureís Son.î With songs echoing the likes of those British mop-tops and the Prince of Darkness, he succeeds in showing his own versatility, and that of jazz music.

Contact Andrew Pina