Brad Mehldau - After Bach (2018)

Posted By: Designol
Brad Mehldau - After Bach (2018)

Brad Mehldau - After Bach (2018)
EAC | FLAC | Image (Cue&Log) ~ 269 Mb | Mp3 (CBR320) ~ 186 Mb | Scans included
Label: Nonesuch Records | # 7559-79318-0 | Time: 01:09:22
Contemporary Jazz, Modern Creative, Classical Crossover

No composer looms over modern jazz quite like Johann Sebastian Bach, whose harmonic rigour seems to have provided the basis for bebop and all that followed. Listen to the endlessly mutating semiquavers tumbling from Charlie Parker’s saxophone and it could be the top line of a Bach fantasia; the jolting cycle of chords in John Coltrane’s Giant Steps could come straight from a Bach fugue and Bach’s contrapuntal techniques crop up in countless jazz pianists, from Bill Evans to Nina Simone.

Bach certainly casts a long shadow over US pianist Brad Mehldau: even when he’s gently mutilating pieces by Radiohead, Nick Drake or the Beatles, he sounds like Glenn Gould ripping into the Goldberg Variations. Which is why it comes as no surprise to see Mehldau recording an entire album inspired by Bach.

However, this is not a jazz album. Instead of riffing on Bach themes, as the likes of Jacques Loussier or the Modern Jazz Quartet have done in the past, After Bach sees Mehldau using Bach’s methodology. Mehldau plays five of Bach’s canonic 48 Preludes and Fugues, each followed by his own modern 21st-century response. For instance, after a straight performance of the Prelude No 3 in C-sharp major, Mehldau responds by resetting Bach’s original riff in a jerky 5/4 rhythm and taking it into a harmonically adventurous labyrinth. Similarly, a romantic, rubato-heavy reading of the F minor Prelude and Fugue is followed by a dreamlike meditation on some of the themes hinted at in Bach’s original. The effect is as if someone has taken pages from The Well-Tempered Clavier, turned them upside down and reflected them in a wobbly fairground mirror.

Where Bach’s preludes and fugues are like gentle sudoku puzzles, Mehldau’s cryptic harmonies sometimes feel as if you’re grappling with an insoluble 5x5 Rubik’s Cube and the results – as with the opening track, Benediction – can sometimes be headache-inducing. However, by the two closing tracks, Ostinato and Prayer for Healing, Mehldau is wearing his chops lightly and starting to tug at the heartstrings.

Review by John Lewis, The Guardian

It seems that classical composer J.S. Bach has provided a surge of inspiration for some recent releases by artists on the Nonesuch label, starting with the Bach Trios led by an unusual yet explosive combination of musicians such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolinist Chris Thile, and bassist Edgar Meyer. Now we have another Bach-inspired release, this one by the highly acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau, with works consisting of selection of the composer's compositions, along with several originals inspired by Bach's music.

Mehldau is one of the most distinctive and influential jazz pianists today. He is renowned for stretching the forms and boundaries of jazz music through his ambitious and exploratory projects and bands. Over the course of almost three decades, he has charted his own course through this challenging area of arts. One of the most recognizable features of Mehldau's oeuvre is the unusual sources of inspiration and interpretation combined with his compositional prowess. He is one of those vanguard musicians who freely use every source available, be it classic jazz, European classical music or indie and alternative rock as inspiration for his art.

The dust of history often makes people forget that most of the greatest composers in classical music were also superb improvisers. These days when the aspect of improvisation is mentioned in relation to classical music it is easy to assume that a mistake has been made. Jazz or folk music are probably the first things that come to mind when people mention improvising. But great composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt or Bach were renowned for their improvisations skills that they displayed in performances of classical music in the pre 20th centuries. Composing "on the spot" was considered a standard in classical music that was highly entertaining and well-respected as a precious skill. Bach amazed audiences with his improvisational keyboard skills. Classical music and jazz have always had a long and interesting relationship, so it is no wonder why there are so many "jazzed up" versions of works by classical composers, Bach included.

But Mehldau's work After Bach is not a "jazzed-up" approach to Bach's music. It's a straightforward interpretation of a selection of his compositions and improvisations on aspects of his works. Co-commissioned in 2015 by Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and organizations in Canada, Switzerland, and Ireland, After Bach consists of performances of four preludes and one fugue from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, each followed by an "After Bach" interpretation by Mehldau. By his own admission, during his formative years classical music ran parallel to jazz and pop music. Indeed, it is difficult to find any top level jazz musician today who hasn't been enchanted by Bach's oeuvre.

Even though many jazz pianists can play classical music well, the real question has always been whether their performances can stand shoulder to shoulder with those of world-class classical pianists. In the case of these performances with Brad Mehldau, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Regardless whether it's jazz or classical or his own composition, it seems that Mehldau pursues a mission to explore the place where beauty and sorrow meet. He immerses himself deep into these works and yet manages to convey his incredible personal pianistic magnetism.

On After Bach , the enormous breadth of Mehldau's talent stands revealed. His passagework has a distinct feeling, and as a result he gives the music an improvisatory atmosphere. Regarding the interpretation of Bach's compositions, Mehldau's perceptive keyboard workmanship attests to a natural affinity for this composer's idiom, as numerous details bear out. He is a sensitive performer with a profound sense for nuances and shading, but his virtuosity brings the music across with considerable inner excitement. The program opens with the prologue "Before Bach: Benediction." His touch is sublime throughout this work and he weights carefully every phrase which in turn imbues the music with various subtle details that aren't often heard at piano recitals.

The "After Bach" works are characterized by lyrical, expressive playing which takes Bach's ideas and leads them in entirely new directions. He seizes on an aspect of the original Bach compositions and then he builds something astonishing that quickly leaves Bach's approach behind. In the piece titled "Rondo," he takes the 6 note pattern of Bach's prelude and he infuses a totally different tone to it by removing one note. The set closes with the majestic and evocative "Prayer for Healing" which has a sense of a poetic design that oddly evokes Claude Debussy's impressionistic tones. Even though it stands out compared to what preceded it, the meditative character makes it a perfect ending. There are very informative liner notes by Timo Andres who provides a detailed analysis and background on Mehldau's playing and the chances he is taking, serving as an illumination of the overall complexity and brilliance of the whole endeavor.

Brad Mehldau is a giant of contemporary jazz piano whose musical language has always been difficult to define due to his healthy lack of respect for musical boundaries. This music, which is well suited to his refined artistry, reveals another aspect to his sonic persona that hasn't surfaced fully until now. With it, Mehldau celebrates Bach on his own terms on this consistently intriguing album.

Review by Nenad Georgievski,

Brad Mehldau's ruminative, harmonically nuanced jazz has long evinced a deep classical influence. His highly regarded 1999 Elegiac Cycle found him evincing the work of composers like Brahms, Chopin, and Schumann. He went on to offer similar cycles to classical vocalists Renee Fleming and Anne Sofie von Otter. All of which is to say that, like his forebears, pianists Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Paul Bley, Mehldau is as likely to draw upon a classical piece as any jazz standard, especially when he is playing his own often meditative original compositions. On 2018's After Bach, the acclaimed pianist takes that classical influence to its logical fruition, investigating composer J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier fugues. Alongside Bach's work, he offers his own "After Bach" compositions inspired by the fugues. While Mehldau is primarily known as a jazz musician, he's no slouch as a classical pianist, either. Blessed with a supple technique and emotive keyboard flow, he offers deft renditions of Bach's fugues. Here, he dances spritely through "Prelude No. 3 in C sharp major, BWV 848 (from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I)~Prelude," and delivers a drawn-out, mournful take on "Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F minor, BWV 587 (from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I)." His own "After Bach" compositions are equally compelling, as he takes Bach's circular, swirling architecture and builds his own pieces, weaving in bits of jazz-informed harmonics and unexpected lyrical asides. Cuts like "Rondo" and "Flux" are buoyant and circular, splitting the difference between Vince Guaraldi and Keith Jarrett. Elsewhere, "Dream" plays like an impressionist Debussy composition as performed by Matthew Shipp. With After Bach, Mehldau has crafted a warm, endlessly listenable album that still pushes plenty of musical boundaries.

Review by Matt Collar,

Brad Mehldau - After Bach (2018)


01. Before Bach: Benediction (5:25)
02. Prelude No. 3 in C# Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 848 (1:21)
03. After Bach: Rondo (8:21)
04. Prelude No. 1 in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 870 (2:36)
05. After Bach: Pastorale (3:47)
06. Prelude No. 10 in E Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 855 (2:16)
07. After Bach: Flux (5:06)
08. Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 857 (6:10)
09. After Bach: Dream (7:50)
10. Fugue No. 16 in G Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, BWV 885 (3:04)
11. After Bach: Ostinato (12:20)
12. Prayer for Healing (11:06)

Exact Audio Copy V1.0 beta 4 from 7. December 2014

EAC extraction logfile from 24. March 2018, 20:02

Brad Mehldau / After Bach

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log date: 2018-03-31 20:17:28

Analyzed: Brad Mehldau / After Bach

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR12 -0.22 dB -16.04 dB 5:25 01-Before Bach: Benediction
DR11 -0.90 dB -15.52 dB 1:21 02-Prelude No. 3 in C# Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 848
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DR11 -0.13 dB -15.07 dB 12:20 11-After Bach: Ostinato
DR14 -0.23 dB -19.29 dB 11:06 12-Prayer for Healing

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Brad Mehldau - After Bach (2018)

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