To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on the the first night of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Brad Mehldau opened his two-night set at the Walker with a wide-ranging, virtuosic duet with Chris Thile, best known for his work with Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. Over the course of nearly two hours (including two encores), both musicians showcased not only their own genre-defying skills (while never quite leaving the hallmarks of jazz and bluegrass) but their incredible sensitivity and intimacy in performance. In addition to songs by Mehldau and Thile, they re-imagined songs by Fiona Apple, Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, and an incredible version of the Sinatra ballad “I Cover the Waterfront” that showcased Thile’s balladeer skills. (You can find earlier performances of most of these songs from the duo on YouTube.) They also did a melodic mash up of the folk standard “St. Anne’s Reel” with a bebop hallmark, Charlie Parker, that featured a thrilling, high-speed unison line that ranged through the entirety of both men’s instruments.
Yet I left the concert feeling like Thile, a ‘the-word-incredible-doesn’t-do-it-justice performer’ who can do things with a mandolin I didn’t think the instrument was capable of, overshadowed his bandmate. Reflecting on this afterwards, I had a nagging feeling of safeness or comfort with this concert, despite the incredible technical and emotional depth displayed by both musicians. Despite it’s genre-hopping, it wasn’t all that adventurous, except in the realm of genre-hopping itself, a musical conceit that often sets up genres as straw figures only to knock them down. In the end, and at the risk of being reductive, it seemed that Mehldau was incorporating these other musicians into his own style, while Thile was able to adapt an incredibly different variety of musical lineages and styles, without necessarily making them his own in the same way as Mehldau. I’m keen to see how Mehldau’s second performance, with his trio of 20 years, will differ, and what other dimensions of the pianist’s work it will show.
Brad Mehldau Trio performs tonight (April 9) at the Walker as part of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration.