Mehldau is a brilliant, controversial figure in the world of jazz piano. Over the last decade, his lofty output (sample titles: Progression: The Art Of The Trio Vol 5) has paraded its glittering intellectualism to the delight of some, the aggressive indifference of others. It consists of convoluted reworkings of unassuming standards into semi-abstract 7/8 burn-outs, notably halting examinations of ballads and originals which vividly reveal his classical roots. The CDs themselves have often been accompanied by densely argued essays concerning aesthetics, philosophy, the limitation of language and tortuous elucidation on the mechanics of interplay between himself and his group, Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jorge Rosse (drums).
If the instinctive reaction to such self-consciousness is suspicion?of course we expect our musical leaders to be bright, but maybe not make such a deal of it?his music usually wins through. Unquestionably a majestic player, while his own impressive albums have often suffered from a distracting ego-unleashed quality, his piano work on other people’s records?like Close Enough For Love by singer (and Mehldau’s wife) Fleurine and Charles Lloyd’s The Water Is Wide?is sensitively reactive and impeccably musical. And his last album, Largo, surrendered a little more to the visceral as it flirted with electronic processing and?in the climax of his ongoing musical interest in the band?delivered a cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”.
Anything Goes is his first studio album with the trio since 1998’s Songs, and while his musical trademarks remain, it feels less feverishly dazzling than before. The tricksiness sounds more organic and relaxed (the 5/4 title track swings beautifully), the quiet moments (a minimalist pick-through of Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville”, an enquiring-child dismantling of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”) feel deeper and more real. Those keen to hear his latest Radiohead thoughts will be thrilled by a rolling, retching “Everything In Its Right Place”.
There’s a sense on Anything Goes of an older, calmer Mehldau wielding the slide rule with a little more discretion, the result being his music is becoming as easy to love as it is to gulpingly admire.