Mehliana is the recording and performing project of pianist and composer Brad Mehldau and drummer, composer, and electronic musician Mark Guiliana. The former is one of the most highly regarded artists in the jazz world; the latter, a decade his junior, is a celebrated sideman and the leader of the genre-defying Beat Music, an ensemble that deftly juxtaposes electronica, funk, jazz, prog rock, and more. Mehldau wrote half of the cuts on Taming the Dragon; the duo co-wrote the balance. This wild melange of keyboards, beats, textures, musical styles, samples, and electronic sounds reflects jagged yet accessible compositions and improvisations whose sonics are as important as their melodies. Mehldau plays synths, Rhodes, and acoustic piano, while Guiliana provides drums and other electronics. The title track is one of two spoken word pieces here. It commences with a near-ambient backdrop as Mehldau recalls a dream epiphany before the music gives way to a heavily fazed drum and synth workout that spirals to the margins as it closes. "Luxe" features a wound-out, fat-ass synth bass, pulsing Rhodes, and a martial backbeat that begins sparsely and hypnotically before it transforms into a cooking, futurist jazz-funk groove. "You Can't Go Back Now" is led by Guiliana's breaks and sampled voices before Mehldau's Squarepusher-esque synth introduce his Rhodes and acoustic piano; the track's dynamic tension increases until it becomes a space jazz anthem. The limber jazz-funk in "Sleeping Giant" deliberately recalls George Duke's MPS era recordings, though it contains Mehldau's knotty lyricism. "Gainsbourg" samples the French songwriter's "Manon" and "Ford Mustang." Initially, it feels like a cinema cue but, like everything else here, nothing is what it seems. Through quick editing its wacky, informal, and nearly hummable melody becomes a harmonic mosaic. "Just Call Me Nige" features nearly incessant breaks and in-the-pocket vamps by Guiliana (beatmakers will be sampling this guy, and this record, for years to come). It bridges the gap between dancefloor stepper and prog rock jam. Those beats provide a platform for Mehldau's Rhodes solo which evolves from blues to post-bop and his zig-zagging synth lines could be an update of Deodato's version of "Thus Spake Zarathustra." "Swimming" starts as a midtempo ballad but eventually approaches jazz-rock with a 10/8 meter and a labyrinthine Rhodes solo from Mehldau, while closer "London Gloaming" melds Radiohead-esque avant-pop, and atmospheric electronica. More conservative jazzheads will likely shake their heads in disapproval at Taming the Dragon, but this set is for anyone but them. Though it's quite sophisticated, this album is a hell of a lot of fun. Mehldau and Guiliana integrate all of the musical, stylistic, and technological elements at their disposal into an imaginative, provocative -- and focused -- whole. Fans of Marco Benevento and Medeski, Martin & Wood take note.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek