Monday, April 21, 2014

Concert Review: The Brad Mehldau Trio at The Folly Theater

Doubts began to creep into my mind in the days leading up to Saturday's concert at the Folly Theater.

The prospect of a performance by the trio of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard appealed to me less than any number of Mehldau-related alternatives. 

Mehldau's new Mehliana collaboration with Mark Guiliana, his partnership with Pat Metheny or a larger format that included the likes of saxophonist Joshua Redman seemed preferable.  An outing by Ballard's heavyweight trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenón also sounded more promising. 

The small crowd seemed like an ill omen.  When a friend exclaimed "he's the man" of Mehldau before the concert began, I countered that "the man" should be able to sell more than 500 tickets.  The actual attendance probably exceeded 600, but even so, it's disappointing that one of the most celebrated and important musicians under the age of 50 can't fill a 1,000-seat venue at a rare appearance in Kansas City.

My reservations dissolved when the trio tore into "Spirals" to open the concert.  The trio's stunning interplay and progressive outlook immediately exposed the limitations of the vast majority of its peers.  The sheer audacity displayed at Saturday's performance makes Mehldau's group the most remarkable piano trio I've witnessed since Vijay Iyer led a band in the same venue in 2012.

It wasn't perfect.  The performance occasionally threatened to become too dry.  At these frustrating junctures, the sultry cooing of the French-speaking couple seated nearby redirected me to the earthy aspects of the music temporarily obscured by the trio's dense theory.  Even so, the concert possessed few cathartic moments, and at just over 90 minutes, Mehldau's outing was peculiarly terse.  

Libby Hanssen reviewed the concert for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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