Since his emergence onto the international jazz scene in the early 1990s, Brad Mehldau’s evolution as a gifted, inspired artist has been nothing but breathtaking. In addition to his now legendary jazz piano chops, Mehldau has explored and extended himself into many music modalities, and with his new release, created in tandem with noted tenor vocalist and musical interpreter, Ian Bostridge, Mehldau straddles several genres here in a bewitching sojourn into this powerful song cycle that plumbs the limits of sexual freedom in a post-#MeToo political age. Taking inspiration from the poetry of Blake, Yeats, Shakespeare, Brecht, Goethe and Cummings, this 16-track, diverse program also includes jazz standards and a foray into German Lieder.
First up is The Sick Rose – languid and gossamer, Bostridge’s rich tenor encircles the potent poetry of William Blake, while Mehldau weaves a world of fog and delight through his pianistic/artistic skill. Leda and the Swan is a central theme of this song cycle, and is drawn from a Greek myth, while the text comes from Yeats, and depicts a brutal rape – the denying of free will and transfiguration of a false god for venal pleasure. Mehldau rides the roller coaster of emotion and crashes into Yeats’ deepest meaning. A highlight of the cycle is the boys I mean are not refined. The poetry of ee cummings takes a jaundiced look at amoral young men. While Mehldau again creates a profound mood and, through his incomparable vocal instrument, Bostridge wrings every last bit of meaning out of the disturbing text. A triumph of artistic sensibility and skill.
Of special, luminous beauty are the duo’s take on These Foolish Things, and the rarely performed gem, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. The almost unbearable beauty of Mehldau’s piano is evident throughout, and he remains one of the most profound and original artists of his (or any) time.