Warner Bros - 2002 - 65 minutes
Contemporary jazz. It's a phrase that sends a shiver up the spine. Jazz just isn't fun. It's never going to make you pogo around your bedroom playing air guitar.
All the love and respect that music fans have for the giants of jazz can have the undesirable effect of making contemporary artists appear like thoroughly minor figures by comparison.
So it is with Brad Mehldau. Even the acclaim he received for his 'Art of the Trio' releases and his brilliant live performances was not enough to make me curious about the hottest new pianist in jazz.
'Largo' could well be the album that takes Mehldau up a level, to reach that wider audience that is intimidated by the idea of new jazz. It certainly deserves such success.
'Largo' is stunningly accessible, assisted by Mehldau's choice of cover versions (Radiohead's 'Paranoid Android' and the Beatles 'Dear Prudence') as well as the pop sensibilities of producer/arranger Jon Brion. It is also brilliantly realised; an occasionally challenging, often moving evocation of pure musical virtuosity.
Brion's technical nous is in evidence on 'Largo'. He daubed putty on Mehldau's piano strings to produce a unique dense sound. But in truth, there is no doubting who the star of the show is.
'Largo' opens with 'When It Rains' where a delicate and subtly emotional piano figure is backed up by a loungy percussion track which would not be out of place on a Kid Loco album. Beautiful, modern and multi-leveled, 'When It Rains' sets the tone for the rest of the record perfectly. 'Dusty McNugget' is almost a deliberate refutation of the downbeat, difficult image of new jazz, the joyful, funky melody is set off with a perfect arrangement.
The covers are simply magnificent. Radiohead probably prefer Mehldau's version of 'Paranoid Android' to their own. He strips away the bombast and pomposity that often mar Radiohead's songwriting, creating a masterpiece of quiet desperation in the process.
In Jon Brion, Mehldau has found a visionary to complement his ability. I don't think you will hear a better record than 'Largo' this year.
Tracklisting: When It Rains - Youre Vibing Me - Dusty McNugget - Dropjes - Paranoid Android - Franklin Avenue - Sabbath - Dear Prudence - Free Willy - Alvarado - Wave/Mother Nature's Son - I Do