The Brad Mehldau Trio at Nighttown
This deceptive closure was duly fractured by the most experimentalperhaps, academicpiece of the evening. Entitled "Wyatt's Eulogy for George Hanson," Mehldau explained it as involving characters from the film Easy Rider. It started slow, haunting. Ballard reached into his percussion chest for all manner of handheld instruments. Later, he struck the drums with mallets, while teasing the cymbals with a brush. Then he flipped the brush and tapped the cymbal with the brush's handle, before finally giving way to naught but fingertips. Mehldau started off in the low range, then led what felt like a surge up a mountain, the three players elbowing each other to gain ground, their energy sapped in the struggle. The pianist exhaled at the finish line, joking with the crowd that the prolonged exercise was indeed "kind of weird."
On its heels came the Elvis Costello weeper "Baby Plays Around," a wistful treat made to order for Mehldau's longing tones. He saw the tune out by playing alone for several minutes, evoking Thelonious' unique touch and voicings so convincingly the segment would have fit in nicely as its own piece on Solo Monk (Columbia, 1965).
The trio closed with a tune entitled "Pollen," slow and subdued to begin with, then rising to a crescendo. The performance garnered thunderous applause, which pulled the band back for two much-appreciated encores.