Album of the Week (1/23/23): Largo - Brad Mehldau
Today, I spun the wheel of 149 albums I love, and the first one to come up was Tim Bernardes' Mil Coisas Invisíveis. This was my album of the year in 2022, and I already wrote about it here. So, I spun again to get album of the week #2.
Week 2 (Jan. 23, 2023)
Artist: Brad Mehldau
Release Date: Aug. 13, 2002
Link to Purchase: https://www.bradmehldaumusic.com/largo
When It Rains
To say I was completely blown away when I first heard Brad Mehldau as a young jazz piano student would be a total understatement. When I first heard Mehldau, I was so drawn to his unique style of improvising, the time feel, the interplay of his left hand commentary with the slick right hand melodic lines, and the fact that it didn't quite sound like what I thought jazz was "supposed to" sound like. Discovering Mehldau opened up my ears and helped bring out parts of my compositional voice. He's remained one of my favorite musicians and inspirations ever since.
My introduction to his music happened in high school, when I discovered his renditions of Beatles and Radiohead songs I love so dearly. Listening to these recordings helped me realize that genre didn't ever have to be a constraint - I could play these songs in my own way too. It's fun to reflect on this feeling and also read about Mehldau's experience attending shows at the Hollywood club, Largo (the namesake of the record):
"I heard a lot of terrific singer-songwriters there for the first time – people like Rufus Wainright, Fiona Apple, Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann. I got re-introduced to how beautiful a good pop song can be through hearing them. Its depth is more about paring something down, chiseling it into a strong, succinct statement – very different than jazz, which for me is often about going out on a limb and staying there."
In a lot of ways, Largo is the middle ground between the two musical identities I find myself fluctuating between - jazz vs. indie rock, improvisation vs. planning - Largo shows me that I don't have to choose. A perfect example of this is the track "Wave/Mother Nature's Son," which blends the Antonio Carlos Jobim tune with the gentle White Album classic to create an exciting, genre-bending sonic environment. The album explores fresh, adventurous takes on beloved songs like Lennon/McCartney's "Dear Prudence" and Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" among captivating Mehldau originals like "When It Rains" and "Dusty McNugget."
A huge part of what makes Largo so special is that the record was a collaboration between Mehldau and producer Jon Brion. The two met in LA at Largo and formed a friendship and musical connection that eventually led to the creation of the album, merging Brion's rich production ideas with Mehldau's improvisational and compositional mastery. A little side-note - one of my favorite videos in existence is the Elliott Smith performance on the Jon Brion show from 2000. Mehldau makes an appearance for a couple of songs on Smith's "Independence Day" and "Bottle Up and Explode." Seeing footage of two of my biggest musical heroes in performance together always makes me extremely emotional (if you like Elliott Smith at all, set aside time to watch this video in its entirety, you won't regret it).
Largo at its core represents what jazz is about to me - exploration. But it's so much more than a jazz album. The thoughtful arranging and production elements throughout give the record a cohesiveness and distinction that I often find lacking in jazz records where the idea is just "play the head in, play solos, and play the head out." Largo is almost 21 years old, but to my ears, it sounds just as fresh and innovative as anything being made right now. Personally, it satisfies so many musical parts of myself, and shows me that all of those parts can always exist together. This is a lesson I'm still learning while I navigate feelings of confusion and uncertainty around my musical "identity." I'm so glad this was the album for week #2. I've really appreciated reflecting on it, and I hope you enjoy revisiting Largo or checking it out for the first time. As always, thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts, too.