Brad Mehldau

House on Hill

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House on Hill may be a new recording, but the material is not. Virtually everything here was written, according to his liner notes -- like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau writes about himself best -- in a session done in 2004 which yielded 18 songs with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. The decision was made to split the sets into originals and covers. The covers became 2004's Anything Goes. There are nine cuts here, the remaining seven from 2004, and the other two come from a more recent session. Mehldau states quite frankly that the compositions here mostly fall into the standard frame for small ensembles: theme (head) variations/theme. Mehldau's notes are exhaustive. They look at compositional forms of theme and its variations from Bach and Brahms. Yeah, it's an intellectual (read: eggheaded) -- and occasionally dry -- reading. The music on this set is anything but. The sheer elegance of Mehldau's writing is always something to behold, and this trio always finds the lace of swing. Often it is not in the melodies and lyric lines he writes. These are usually somewhat knotty, expansive statements from which the band just finds a kind of groove to extrapolate upon. The title cut is a fine example where the slippery little notation in the theme is built into a Latin-flavored ride. Dynamic shifts are continual in this music' check out "Boomer" which gains in intensity until the last minute when it finds its way home into the midtempo softness, and "Backyard," that is almost pastoral until the improvisation, where the tension in the rhythm section is almost icy. The off-kilter, spatial way "Fear and Trembling" (a reference to Søren Kierkegaard's book of the same name, perhaps?) opens is one of the more satisfying moments on the album. The ascending three- and four-note clusters Mehldau employs as a theme work well for putting the listener immediately inside the piece. It's modal touch is a nice one, where space is used as proficiently as instrumental acumen. House on Hill closes with the slightly angular introduction of "Waiting for Eden," that moves through a series of arpeggiatic sleights of hand and into a full swinging post-bop melody. While this set is nowhere near as full of surprises as Day Is Done, it is nonetheless another chapter in the development of a singular composer and pianist.

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