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Mehliana: Taming the Dragon

Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana

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Album Review

Mehliana is the recording and performing project of pianist and composer Brad Mehldau and drummer, composer, and electronic musician Mark Guiliana. The former is one of the most highly regarded artists in the jazz world; the latter, a decade his junior, is a celebrated sideman and the leader of the genre-defying Beat Music, an ensemble that deftly juxtaposes electronica, funk, jazz, prog rock, and more. Mehldau wrote half of the cuts on Taming the Dragon; the duo co-wrote the balance. This wild melange of keyboards, beats, textures, musical styles, samples, and electronic sounds reflects jagged yet accessible compositions and improvisations whose sonics are as important as their melodies. Mehldau plays synths, Rhodes, and acoustic piano, while Guiliana provides drums and other electronics. The title track is one of two spoken word pieces here. It commences with a near-ambient backdrop as Mehldau recalls a dream epiphany before the music gives way to a heavily fazed drum and synth workout that spirals to the margins as it closes. "Luxe" features a wound-out, fat-ass synth bass, pulsing Rhodes, and a martial backbeat that begins sparsely and hypnotically before it transforms into a cooking, futurist jazz-funk groove. "You Can't Go Back Now" is led by Guiliana's breaks and sampled voices before Mehldau's Squarepusher-esque synth introduce his Rhodes and acoustic piano; the track's dynamic tension increases until it becomes a space jazz anthem. The limber jazz-funk in "Sleeping Giant" deliberately recalls George Duke's MPS era recordings, though it contains Mehldau's knotty lyricism. "Gainsbourg" samples the French songwriter's "Manon" and "Ford Mustang." Initially, it feels like a cinema cue but, like everything else here, nothing is what it seems. Through quick editing its wacky, informal, and nearly hummable melody becomes a harmonic mosaic. "Just Call Me Nige" features nearly incessant breaks and in-the-pocket vamps by Guiliana (beatmakers will be sampling this guy, and this record, for years to come). It bridges the gap between dancefloor stepper and prog rock jam. Those beats provide a platform for Mehldau's Rhodes solo which evolves from blues to post-bop and his zig-zagging synth lines could be an update of Deodato's version of "Thus Spake Zarathustra." "Swimming" starts as a midtempo ballad but eventually approaches jazz-rock with a 10/8 meter and a labyrinthine Rhodes solo from Mehldau, while closer "London Gloaming" melds Radiohead-esque avant-pop, and atmospheric electronica. More conservative jazzheads will likely shake their heads in disapproval at Taming the Dragon, but this set is for anyone but them. Though it's quite sophisticated, this album is a hell of a lot of fun. Mehldau and Guiliana integrate all of the musical, stylistic, and technological elements at their disposal into an imaginative, provocative — and focused — whole. Fans of Marco Benevento and Medeski, Martin & Wood take note.

Customer Reviews

Jazz genius

So these guys live and they were excellent

Great album

Two innovators of our generation making beautiful music. Defying genres brooo

Brave New Jazz

Jazz is and should always be an ever-evolving art form in which composition meets improvisation and innovation. Sure, Miles will always be Mies. Duke Ellington will always be Ellington. Weather Report will always be Weather Report. But all of those artists pushed Jazz to the limits of definition. And so it goes. And with this adventurous new album from two absolutely brilliant musicians, we hear familiar Jazz, electronica, rock and funk sounds put together in a whole new, thoroughly modern way. And yes we hear all kinds of stylistic references to other artists, but if you try to compare this to some of those cats you miss the point. Take it for what it is and see if you like it. All I know is if these guys come to San Francisco, I’ll be there in the front row.

Biography

Born: August 23, 1970 in Jacksonville, FL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

During the '90s and into the 2000s, Brad Mehldau was one among a plethora of young jazz pianists who rose to prominence. He is one of the more absorbing and thoughtful practitioners within that idiom, and he is receptive to the idea of using material from the rock era (Paul McCartney's "Blackbird," for example). Though Mehldau's training is primarily classical, his interest in jazz began early. He played in the Hall High School jazz band of Hartford, Connecticut, winning the Berklee College of Music's...
Full Bio
Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, Brad Mehldau
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