Some bands, with their interpersonal dynamic, give the impression of cold efficiency. Others seem to be just barely holding it all together. My Morning Jacket embodies a preferable third option: nothing but warmth, and a conviction that music-making still largely comes out of a hang. Last month I visited the band’s hometown of Louisville, Ky., on business, and plugged into their vibe firsthand. We talked a lot about Circuital, their intensely cohesive new album, and how it came to be.
I’ve blobbedbefore in this space about Highway Rider, the new Brad Mehldau album, produced by Jon Brion. Chances are, you already know that it’s their first collaboration since Largo, which was released in 2002. I wanted to take the opportunity to not only tackle the new release but also revisit the implications of the older one, which has come to mean a lot more than it did on first arrival. So that was the explicit angle of this piece, in the current Arts & Leisure section.
One thing that struck me, as I dug around, was how
deeply Largo resonated with younger
musicians. I had expected it, but not quite to this extent. Marco
Benevento (above), has a track on his next album -- Between Needles
and Nightfall, due out in May -- that
explicitly invokes the Mehldau-Brion hookup. (It’s a waltz, sun-warped and
bittersweet.) Benevento told me he heard the rough mixes for Largo during a lesson with Mehldau, describing that moment
in the language of a convert. “It’s really just been a total
inspiring thing, very much like a calling: ‘Yes, this is the direction
where your heart is wanting to go.’” (You can hear the results of that
conviction right here.)
Another pianist, Frank LoCrasto, caught my ear a few years
ago with his debut, When You’re There. If
you can track it down, listen to “Overture/The Rathskeller/Interlude,” which
clearly evokes Brion. Or check the piano solo that follows Becca
Stevens’ vocal on “Gathered Impressions” -- trés Mehldau. This isn’t a matter
of abashment for LoCrasto, who affirmed that Largo provoked a sustained investigation into Brion’s history
as both a producer and a singer-songwriter. (To hear LoCrasto’s version of the
gospel, look here.)
I also heard form Erik Deutsch, whose Hush Money patently reflects a Largo influence. (That’s my assessment; judge for yourself.) “I had always been excited by Brad Mehldau’s playing, compositions, and treatment of contemporary covers, which spoke to my equal love for jazz, pop, and rock music,” Deutsch said in an email message.
“Largo was ambitious texturally and compositionally, and definitely true to the history of sonic rock n roll production. The impressionistic jazz drumming of the trio records was replaced with straight-up rock pocket playing. There were lush horn and synth pads, crusty loops, and bubbly drum programs. There were adventurous piano treatments, including heavy distortion. Also, there were very few solos, especially from anyone in the band besides the leader. It’s not that these techniques stemmed from totally new ideas, but they did represent a new direction in jazz music, one that made sense to a younger generation of musicians (including myself).”
Tomorrow I’ll post more on Highway Rider, with an emphasis on the Mehldau-Brion hookup,
and audio clips from the recording studio.
At some point, certain jazz folk may have stopped paying
close attention to Medeski Martin & Wood. They’re doing fine, in case you
were wondering. After coming to the end of their Blue Note Records affiliation
five years ago, they went indie full-time, establishing Indirecto Records and
doubling down on their bet that there will never be a bear market for