Brad Mehldau’s trio has long ceased to be a hype to transcend to something more important, consolidating itself as a classic of our time that has influenced an entire generation of young musicians. Despite this, his formula continues to reaffirm itself in each concert and with each recording; It is no longer so much about creating something new, as about simplifying the essence of your contribution in an increasingly sparse and personal way. His recent album “Seymour reads the constitution” –of which Donostia sounded “Spiral” and the title track of the album– is an excellent example.
It is enough to remember that in the nineties many fans referred to him as “Brahms Mehldau”, ironically about the affectation with which he expressed his most melancholic side, to realize that today there is very little of that left. His sentimentality persists as something inherent to his music, but it is increasingly dry and naked, more elemental and true. Only the way the pianist still leans over the keyboard with his arms half-tucked is unnatural, everything else is sincere and powerful: the way he savors every note of a ballad, his taste for deconstructing pop melodies. rock – this time it was “And I love her” by the Beatles and the “Hey Joe” that Hendrix appropriated and he made his own in the encore, to the delirium of a crowded Kursaal – in a completely personal and recognizable way, his flashes old-fashioned swing or his weakness for Bach’s counterpoint. And, of course, the dense warp that he forms with Jeff Ballard (drums) and Larry Grenadier (double bass), superb and irreplaceable. There is no other jazz trio like this in the world, whoever tried it knows it.
When music and chance intersect, wonderful things sometimes happen. That same night we were able to hear again the Paul McCartney classic performed by Cécile McLorin Salvant. The same composition, a different song. It is easier for Cécile to experience her than to describe her, but we must endeavor to translate once again the joy of seeing her mature live. Her voice is splendid and her debt to renowned references such as Bessie Smith or Sarah Vaughan is decreasing, but the most amazing thing is her authority to enter the lyrics of the song and narrate it as an actress would. So convincing and real.
He knows exactly how to alter the connotations of a story with a sudden flash of sharpness or laconism, and he does not waste his joviality in vain. Each song in their repertoire is there with a specific purpose and order, shaping a coherent narrative body: from “Let’s face the music and dance” to traditional folk-blues “John Henry”, passing through the favorite of the local public “ Alfonsina y el mar ”or the delicious“ Fine and Mellow ”, which he shared with veteran Mary Stallings, Donostia 2018 award winner. The musicians who accompany the vocalist also do not go unnoticed: on this tour the pianist Sullivan Fortner rightly replaces the exquisite Aaron Diehl , firing phrases and ideas full of originality and asymmetry, that inspire McLorin to take unexpected paths on the mattress of a stupendous rhythm formed by Paul Sikivie (double bass and musical direction) and Kyle Poole (drums).
To be surprised there is no way to go to an engagement without clear expectations and, in the first half of the night, we had already received an unexpected gift. Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter and Dave Holland are three top musicians, but few of us were clear about what they would be able to offer together. To clear up any doubts from the first song, they made it clear that they had not come to open for anyone, no matter how much we venerate Cécile McLorin, both locals and strangers. They simply let the music speak eloquently: the Bombay surfer is much more than a virtuoso and, as the conductor of the evening, he arranged the tapestry for a lunch with a strong Hindustani flavor. As guests respectful of the customs of their host, their companions voluntarily submitted to the traits of a music as suggestive as it is apt for exploration.
The most daring of the explorers was Potter, magnificent as ever. It may not be as mediatic as other saxophonists, but few can approach its domain without effects of all kinds of registers and resources. He is out of any stereotype, and his approach to oriental modes and scales –either with the soprano or tenor sax– made it clear that for him any project is an opportunity to grow and find himself as a musician. Compositions like the initial “Lucky seven” –which he recorded in 2006 with Holland’s quintet– or “J Bai” (by Zakir Hussain) challenged him to remove exotic spaces that we had not yet shared together, showing us new angles of his personality, surprising us with a speech and some seemingly inexhaustible ideas.
Fortunately, at this point in his career, Holland is no longer capable of doing more than himself. It doesn’t matter if he leads his own quintet or accompanies Pepe Habichuela and Herbie Hancock. His double bass pumps out a firm and distinctive pulse like few others and is solidly anchored to the essentials of each music. For his part, Hussain showed the neophytes that he is much more than a gifted percussionist, and he knew how to put his personal mark on a music where the whole was more important than the parts. To the point of leaving us wanting to repeat.