On his latest album "Largo", pianist Brad Mehldau succeeds in thinking outside of the box, nay, triangle that is the traditional jazz trio.
Abandoning solos for song structure, Mehldau and producer/collaborator Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann) have created a brilliant album of
rock-influenced contemporary jazz. The album opens with the engaging "When It Rains", with intense piano skirmishes woven between crisp drumming and lush horn parts. This track sets the tone for the majority of the original pieces on the album: interesting and innovative piano lines layed over beautiful and spacious soundscapes. The production is immaculate and the
instrumentation is arranged extremely well. Brion's original production style is extremely effective throughout the record. He experiments with different ways of altering piano sounds, such as placing putty on the strings to create a muted sound. By adding distortion, he creates an almost electric guitar sound on the obvious rock tribute "Sabbath." "Largo" also features a wealth of talented and experienced session players including Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Critters Buggin'), Victor Indrizzo (Beck, Samiam), and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Tori Amos, Beck). In addition to the nine original pieces, Mehldau also includes his take on two Beatles songs and Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." The Beatles songs ("Dear Prudence", "Mother Nature's Son") are well adapted to piano and mesh nicely with the rest of the album's tracks. "Paranoid Android" becomes a nine minute examination of the original. While the dynamic created between the solo voice of the piano and the rest of the ensemble is entertaining, the song loses a lot of its emotion without the vocals. Mehldau's greatest accomplishment on this record is infusing it with emotional intensity. While this style is typically appreciated for the musicianship, the emotional content is what makes this album a winner. I highly recommend this album, even if you traditionally don't listen to jazz. It could open your ears.