BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO
In the 40s, either by design or serendipity, tenor saxist Paul Quinichette played so much like Lester Young, aka Prez, that he was nicknamed "the Vice President." And in the 50s every city seemed to have an alto man who'd learned Charlie Parker's licks well enough to earn the name "Little Bird." But in a genre that treasures originality the way jazz does, such a moniker ensures a musician second-tier status--despite the distinction of being linked with an important innovator. Pianist Brad Mehldau doesn't have a nickname, but that may be because Keith Jarrett doesn't either: for better or worse, Jarrett's wonderfully eccentric phrasemaking and lovingly evoked timbre suffuse Mehldau's playing to its core. A couple months ago Mehldau released Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (Warner Brothers), a superb and often spectacular recording built around his precise technique, sculpted dynamics, and narrative skill. Jarrett created the template for this project nearly two decades ago, when he formed his Standards Trio; listeners will have to decide for themselves whether this dilutes the younger player's accomplishments. Mehldau sounds more like his own man in contexts dissimilar to those Jarrett most often uses, like Mehldau's occasional trio with two modern-jazz minimalists, saxist Lee Konitz and bassist Charlie Haden; last month they put out Another Shade of Blue (Blue Note), and on that disc the pianist's stark, diffident chords and inventive melodies eschew the usual sources. Mehldau performs in Chicago with the intimate group from Back at the Vanguard, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy--and Jarrett's Standards Trio comes to town next week, which should provoke plenty of comparisons and no end of debate among devotees of jazz piano. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, November 19 and 20, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, November 21, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tim Hale.