Album Remarks & Appraisals:
All About Jazz - Ian Patterson
Seven years separate Ode from this trio's last studio recording, the outstanding Day is Done (Nonesuch, 2005), which has come to mark a before-and-after in Brad Mehldau's trajectory. Previously, the pianist had recorded in a traditional trio setting with few exceptions. Since Day is Done, however, Mehldau's projects have covered much more diverse terrain: setting poetry to music with classical soprano RenTe Fleming; rubbing shoulders with guitarist Pat Metheny; and blending classical and popular song with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2010) was an orchestral suite of cinematic scope, while Modern Voices (Nonesuch, 2011) paired Mehldau with pianist Kevin Hays, simultaneously working their way through the compositional frameworks of Patrick Zimmerli and other contemporary classical composers.
Mehldau has stretched himself in live performances too, appearing with mandolinist Chris Thile. While these collaborations have been hugely satisfying, his trio's studio return is most welcome; it feels a little like slipping on your favorite sweater. That's not to say that nothing has changed since Day is Done; Mehldau - one of the great modern interpreters - eschews covers here, presenting 11 beguiling originals. His writing and playing are leaner and more melodic, without sacrificing any of the trio's habitual dynamism. ... read more...
All About Jazz - Doug Collette
The very first notes of the Brad Mehldau Trio's Ode sound rich, lyrical and full of energy. This may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the pianist's work, but loyal followers of Mehldau know he brings an unusual intensity to his work, particularly his solo projects and the collaborations with his trio (currently bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard). This, the first studio trio recording since Day Is Done (Nonesuch, 2005), is no exception.
Thus, a homage to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, "M.B.," might serve as a dramatic conclusion to another artist's album, but here opens a non-stop stream of invention. Multiple eclectic threads appear in Mehldau's playing: classical, ragtime, pop and blues are only the most obvious components of a personal style in which the pianist not only executes the structure, but also communicates the emotional quotient intrinsic to each genre as well.
In a restatement of the main melodic motif of "26," the threesome take some relative respite during the otherwise breathless performance, while "Dream Sketch" lives up to its evocative title: piano, bass and drums subtly tradeoff rhythm amid melodic duties during the course of the track. The individual virtuosity and collective camaraderie of Mehldau, Grenadier and Ballard is a wonder to hear because it is so rare and so deeply ingrained in their relationship. ... read more...
Mojo (Publisher) (p.82) - "[An] album of 11 sparkling, deft originals....Full of understated elegance, ODE reminds us that Mehldau's is an increasingly significant body of work."
Personnel: Brad Mehldau (piano); Jeff Ballard (drums).
Audio Mixer: James Farber.
Liner Note Author: Brad Mehldau.
Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York, NY (11/17/2008/04/19/2011).
Photographer: Michael Wilson .
Pianist Brad Mehldau has regularly performed with his trio, which has included bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard since 2004, when the latter replaced Jorge Rossy. As a trio, they've spent relatively little time in the studio together exclusively -- it's been seven years since Day Is Done. On 2010's Highway Rider, Mehldau augmented the group with Matt Chamberlain, Joshua Redman, and an orchestra. Ode marks the very first album comprised of all Mehldau material cut by this trio. While the title may reflect a a certain ponderousness, these 11 tunes are anything but. Specifically written for this group, they show off an increasingly muscular sense of interplay and stylistic athleticism that wasn't nearly as present on Day Is Done. "M.B." (written in memory of Michael Brecker) states a bluesy theme and moves off into several directions, seemingly at once. Mehldau quickly moves through the head, finds a space, and the band stops on a dime, investigating the various changes seemingly note by note before taking off again. Grenadier's riffing during Mehldau's solo is especially riveting, and his tone is full of wood. Mehldau's soloing on "Stan the Man" is busier, faster, and even denser, as if Art Tatum's wide-reaching blues were his inspiration. On the title track, he maintains the changes and vamp with his left hand as his right hand goes off into free dancing mode. On the Latin-tinged "Dream Sketches," Grenadier's bass solo is not only full of imagination, but twists and turns in groove quotient as well. Ballard's kinetic drumming and percussion are riveting on virtually everything, but here it is exceptionally propulsive. Mehldau's pianism is much more pointillistic; accenting grooves, underscoring them, and finding spaces within them for short, melodic bursts that point to the worlds outside the tune. "Wyatt's Eulogy For George Hanson," begins as a sketchy ballad that moves into a wonderful Grenadier solo before becoming a complex, somewhat dissonant harmonic exploration --Mehldau's use of the lower register is gorgeous. "Aquaman" is another sprint, with quickly shifting ideas and taut interplay. As an album, Odes reveals just how far this group has traveled together these past seven years. More importantly, it provides an exciting glimpse of what may lie on their collective horizon. ~ Thom Jurek
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