Brad Mehldau: River Man

24 Aug

Brad Mehldau: Elegiac Cycle

Brad Mehldau's 1999 release Elegiac Cycle

Birthday greetings to pianist Brad Mehldau, who celebrates No. 41 today.

You may not need be a scholar of German literature or philosophy or Romanticism to understand Mehldau, but it doesn’t hurt. His liner notes and interviews are full of varied and detailed references from Thomas Mann to Brahms to Coltrane to Beethoven to Rilke to Ginsberg and Kerouac to Plato to acid jazz to the “masters.” It’s exhausting, but enlightening; the listening to his music is easier than the reading, but both are worth the effort.

“The ever shorter and shorter life span of each trend perpetuates a sentiment that’s characteristic of some of our jazz critics these days,” Mehldau wrote in the fascinating liner notes to his 1999 album Elegiac Cycle. “To be a Master, you must do one or more of the following:

  • “A.) Imply, with the help of Yes-Men, that you are nothing short of a Messiah.”
  • “B.) Rise from prolonged, unexplainable obscurity.
  • “C.) Have a good portion of your work recorded before 1965.
  • “D.) Die.”

Mehldau has done none of the above. And while we’ll leave it to the experts to determine Mehldau’s place in the jazz world, we know where his place is here — in the antique we call a CD player or the iPhone.

Mehldau’s music is as diverse as his thinking — you can listen to him perform songs of Paul Simon, the Beatles, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Monk, Evans, Radiohead or Charlie Chaplin, as well as his own work. And his liner notes are equally interesting and varied — you can find discussions of anything from mortality of art to the art of composition.

“Alas life is short, art is long,” Mehldau wrote on Elegiac Cycle. “Great music packs a primordial punch. And when the wind is knocked out of you, something great takes place: You get to feel your own mortality. (italics Mehldau’s) . . . The process of improvisation is a kind of affirmation of mortality. Even in the moment you’re creating something, it’s already gone forever, and that’s precisely its strength. Improvisation would seem to solve the problem of death by constantly dying as it’s being born. It scoffs at loss, and revels in its own transience.”

Got it? If not, just listen. And if you do, just listen. And enjoy.

A link below to Nick Drake’s River Man:



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