Ode is pianist Brad Mehldau's long-awaited new studio set playing trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, their first studio recording since this "graceful powerhouse" of a lineup, as the New York Times recently put it, made its Nonesuch debut in 2005 with Day Is Done. This time, however, all the tunes are Mehldau originals, written with Grenadier and Ballard in mind. As the pianist elaborates, "I feel that what they bring to the music in the performance here is inseparable from the tunes themselves. It was music I wrote to play with them specifically."
Mehldau has long been highly regarded as a composer, solo artist, and fearless collaborator, embarking on projects with a diverse range of artists, from jazz guitarist Pat Metheny to soprano Renee Fleming to mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. His 2011 Nonesuch release, Modern Music, paired him with fellow jazz pianist Kevin Hays and classical composer-arranger Patrick Zimmerli. As All About Jazz has declared, "When the history book of the latter part of the 20th century/early part of the new millennium is written, Mehldau will, no doubt, take a well-deserved place alongside predecessors such as Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett as one of the most important pianists of any generation." Over the last two decades, the Brad Mehldau Trio has arguably brought him even more acclaim. As the Times of London noted upon the Nonesuch release last December of The Art of the Trio Recordings 1996-2001, a deluxe seven-disc set, "His band became the most influential new piano trio of the Nineties, a subtle mix of tradition and innovation." Their music, the Irish Times concurred, "stands alongside the best that has been produced in jazz in the last 25 years."
While the boxed set documents the important early years of the Brad Mehldau Trio, with Jorge Rossy on drums, Ode brings the story up to date, with a session cut last spring at Avatar Studio in Manhattan. Drummer Ballard, who joined the trio in 2005, "has proved to be a brilliant replacement for the original percussionist," the New Yorker praised while covering the group's January residency at the Village Vanguard, where the trio had recorded a 2008 Nonesuch live disc. Ode further ties Meldhau's personal history into those of his progenitors and his peers, with songs inspired by and dedicated to such fellow artists as the late saxophonist Michael Brecker ("M.B.") and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel ("Kurt'sVibe") as well as tracks inspired by his son ("Days of Dilbert Delaney") and, most playfully, his favorite character on the seventies cartoon series Superfriends ("Aquaman"). These new tracks are, in Mehldau's opinion, quite literally odes, "tributes to someone else...poems that might be sung." But, he adds, "In our case here, it's the singing only without all those pesky words." Mehldau embarks on a North American tour this spring, alternating Brad Mehldau Trio dates with concerts featuring Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman in a duo format.