Bass-Piano Duo Performs With an Unfettered Insight


There was a certain appropriateness to the presentation of pianist Brad Mehldau in a Chamber Music in Historic Sites program Sunday afternoon. Mehldau’s thoughtful improvisational style, with its inherent chamber music qualities, found a perfect setting in the Art Deco design and the elegant Lalique glass trimmings of Cicada Restaurant in the Oviatt Building.

Although the performance had been scheduled as a trio, a last-minute cancellation by Mehldau’s drummer reduced it to a duo between the pianist and bassist Darek Oles. Interestingly, the change seemed to allow even more insight into Mehldau’s music, with the bass-piano interaction uncolored by the sounds of percussion.

Mehldau’s relatively brief program was dominated by standards and an original or two. Although vestiges of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett occasionally drifted through the music, he has emerged in the past year or so as one of the genuinely original voices on his instrument.


His improvisational singularity was apparent in a number of ways. With “The Very Thought of You,” for example, his lines were frequently filled with contrapuntal phrases. And, even in his most swinging, straight-ahead moments--especially noticeable in a driving blues--he almost never relied upon the familiar jazz piano pattern of left-hand chording with right-hand melodies.

Mehldau transformed the waltz rhythm of “Moon River” into a floating 4/4, countering his melodic phrasing with colorful clusters of notes. Here, as with virtually all of his playing, his command of the instrument’s tone was masterful.

Mehldau’s notes flowed with a dynamic aliveness, bright and percussive in some spots, followed by soft, languorous phrases and lush, impressionistic chording. Some segments had the rapid, articulate density of a Chopin Prelude, others moved forward with the driving momentum of a Bud Powell bebop line.

Oles was, as he always is, a powerful companion, contributing an occasional solo, but mostly distinguishing himself by his hair-trigger accuracy, his capacity to remain in sync with Mehldau’s complex, floating rhythms.

If there was a problem with the Mehldau program, it was its striking brevity. At its close, the appreciative audience was clearly receptive to an encore that, unfortunately, never came, no doubt because Mehldau was scheduled to give a second performance.

Perhaps the Da Camera Society, which produces the Historic Sites programs, should program its events with a bit less rigorous scheduling, allowing the contact between performer and audience to find its natural conclusion.


* The Brad Mehldau Trio also performs at the Club Brasserie in the Bel Age Hotel, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, Wednesday through Saturday. No cover charge, two-drink minimum, with validated parking. (310) 358-7776.