Happy Holidays, everybody. I bring you glad tidings of a new Brad Mehldau album, produced by Jon Brion. That’s right: Nonesuch is due to release Highway Rider, a double CD, on Feb. 23 [March 16]. It’ll be the first Mehldau-Brion collaboration since Largo, from 2002:
Last November, when Mehldau and Brion were mixing the album in Los Angeles, I spent about eight hours in the studio with them, taking notes for a forthcoming Arts & Leisure feature. I got a ton of material, some of which I’ll be posting here as we get closer to release date.
Observing Jon Brion at a board is not unlike watching Mehldau at the piano; it’s his chief instrument, and he approaches it with extrasensory focus and an almost surgical precision. (At one point, mixing a track with a drum part by Matt Chamberlain, he rode the controls manually, in real time. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say he functioned as a member of the band.)
So how does Highway Rider sound? Not at all like Largo Part Deux, which may disappoint some fans initially -- that is, until they hear the results. In the years since his first Brion production, Mehldau has delved ever more seriously into orchestration, teasing out the Romantic undercurrent that has always run through his music. The overture to the new album involves a somber piano prelude, a brooding upwelling of strings and, as the clincher, some gorgeous tenor filigree from Joshua Redman. (The Brad Mehldau Trio -- with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard -- holds down the core of the album. Redman and Chamberlain are guests, as is the chamber orchestra, conducted by Dan Coleman.)
Advance music for the record should be going out soon. I’m looking forward to hearing it again, and to tracking the ripples of response. Frankly I’m shocked that word of this collaboration didn’t leak at any point within the last year. There’ll be more on this project, in this space, fairly soon. Service note, meanwhile: Mehldau will be at the Highline Ballroom, playing solo piano in a benefit for Jazz Reach, on Jan. 14.