Thursday, July 01, 2010


The new issue of Jazziz is out, and it's really good. I'm not just saying that because I write for them, either. There are several articles in this issue that I plan on reading—a profile of violinist Regina Carter (who I wrote about for the Village Voice back in March), one on pianist Orrin Evans, the cover story on David Sanborn (no, seriously), and a piece on Analog Africa, Soundway and some of the other labels currently seeking out and reissuing awesome music from 1970s Africa.

I have a couple of items in the issue, too, of course—a short piece on P.E. Hewitt, a dude who composed, arranged and recorded three albums of pretty impressive small-group jazz back in 1969-72, and whose work has now been boxed up by Now-Again Records; a column looking at four new solo horn albums, some better than others; and a review of Brad Mehldau's much-discussed Highway Rider.

Here's how that last one went:

Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau has never been a particularly extroverted pianist. But on the new double disc Highway Rider, he turns his signature introspection into numbing enervation.
Mehldau augments his regular trio with second drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman and a full orchestra, not to mention the heavy hand of producer Jon Brion, best known for making artsy pop with Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The labor-intensive results offer little more than a pale imitation of 1970s Keith Jarrett—in whose quartet Redman's father Dewey played.
On tracks like "Don't Be Sad" and "The Falcon Will Fly Again," Redman tootles along as Mehldau attempts to bolster the saxophonist's melodic lassitude with baroque indulgence. The latter track features a small choir chanting "la-la-la, la-la-la-la" in its concluding moments, as well as studio dialogue that includes the sounds of a happy child—presumably Mehldau's, as Highway Rider is dedicated to him.
Arrangements shift from solo piano and quintet to duos and trios And two tracks feature just the orchestra, which, ultimately, keeps Highway Rider stuck on the soft shoulder of the road. The string players offer little you couldn't hear over the closing credits of a second-tier romantic drama, leeching sorely needed energy with over-sweetened arrangements. At nearly two hours, this release is simultaneously overstuffed and idea-starved.


Christopher said...

Ah, so refreshing to read an actual review, with some actual opinions. So many jazz reviews seem to be merely press releases that state a few facts about the personnel and recording session with a vaguely complimentary tone.

Phil Freeman said...

Thanks. I know a lot of negative criticism has been thrown this album's way since its release, but when I wrote this review (a couple of months back), I didn't know whether I was gonna be riding the wave of cultural consensus or an outlier. Either way, it's a wan, boring album.