Review: Brad Mehldau/Mark Guiliana at LJF

At the Barbican on the sixth night of the London Jazz Festival, Simon Adams wonders why master pianist Brad Mehldau has moved into synth-pop

Brad Mehldau is best known as an acoustic pianist, renowned for his solo and trio performances, so his latest outing is somewhat of an adventure for him, and us. Switching to Fender Rhodes and a battery of vintage synthesizers, he is accompanied solely by the drummer Mark Guiliana in a duo they call Mehliana. They play no set compositions, although the last piece sounded familiar, but deliver a series of open-ended performances that nod towards improv, drum ’n’ bass, electric rock, and even dance funk from the 1970s.

Mehdlau’s strengths have always been in rhythmic accumulation and contrast rather than harmonic invention, so his melodies are serviceable rather than strong. Synthesizers squelch and squeal, the Fender is just the right side of glutinous, while the odd piano lines that run through each piece - often played one-handed by a physically contorted Mehldau as he strains with the other hand to reach the synthesizer controls - ring out in clear refrain. At times the music sounds like a Daft Punk out-take or something synth-popsters Air or Zero 7 might have produced in the early 2000s, although there are also menacing hints of Vangelis in his pomp.

The question that kept popping into my head was why Mehldau would want to move in this direction. At times, the show seemed as if it was a spur-of-the-moment occasion, something dreamt up to entertain two musicians who would not usually work together. But this is a serious event for Mehldau – serious enough that he kept his back to the audience throughout and made no announcements whatsoever. Perhaps he is trying to relive some misspent part of his youth, or appeal to a wider audience than is not attracted by his acoustic work. But while his piano playing can transport the listener, this duo kept a packed house strangely quiet. One heckler did ask for more piano and got a sharp retort from the stage. I found myself agreeing with him.

Your Comments:

Posted by Garry Booth, 25 November 2013, 13:52 (1 of 1)

The heckler was an idiot. If he had taken the time to read up on Mehliana he could have saved himself the price of the ticket and saved the rest of us the tedious disruption. Everyone else in the house either already knew what was in store or were open to hearing it. I don't think jazz audiences should always sit there like dummies - but this was boring and boorish.

post a comment