Dear Brad Mehldau, You’re Not Doing Yourself Any Favors

We should state for the record, both Greg and I are huge Mehldau fans historically. I know that I have heard almost every single one of his albums, from this amazing Art of the Trio series with Jorge Rossy and Larry Grenadier, to his masterpiece collaboration with Jon Brion, Largo, to his more recent trio work with drummer Jeff Ballard. Few jazz pianists since the 1990’s have been more consistently inventive, diverse and interesting as Mehldau — and more, his trios are a sight to be seen live in concert.

But, like so many musicians of this caliber, occasionally they reach too high towards the stars, and then ultimately fall flat when trying to innovate or shake things up. And at least on a very cursory first attempt at listening, this kinda seems to be the case with his new record. Below is a short G-chat conversation between Greg and I about Brad Mehldau’s regrettably-titled, synth-laden new album, Mehliana: Taming The Dragon.

Sent at 7:17 PM on Wednesday

Greg Johnson: Dear Brad,
You’re not doing yourself any career favors with these synths from 1993.

Mike Katzif: Oh. HA!
It’s like the opening of that Bright Eyes album.

GJ: Also, it’s generally seen as a bad move to call your album Taming The Dragon.

MK: Well, he IS jerking off in my ears right now

GJ: ahahahahaha

MK: I think once the funky groove comes in, it should be the real song.
Not the cosmic space shit.
And voice over is not funny at all: not insightful, a dumb story, so “edgy” bc he’s saying shit and fuck, so he thinks.
Good god that was bad. I skipped to next track.

GJ: So this is what Aryn and I saw last time he was in SF.

MK: Oh right.
I think he did this here in NYC too recently.

GJ: I remember thinking then: “you know, I love the guy, but this is so prog rock.”
I don’t even know what to call it.

MK: At least a) it’s not the same trio album he’s been doing lately w\ one Radiohead cover, one Nick drake cover and a few originals.

GJ: Right, right.

MK: b) I loved when he did non traditional keyboards on Largo, but that album was so much more tasteful than this.

GJ: God I just hate all these shitty stock synths.

MK: Proves to me that synth sounds being back in electronic and pop music so much has re-infiltrated jazz again, like it did in the ’60s\’70s when all this stuff was brand new and Zawinul and Hancock went a little crazy on this shit.
There is a way to use this stuff with restraint.
This ain’t it.

GJ: Well, this album would be worlds better if the only change he made was to ditch the synths and play only Rhodes.

MK: I like the sequencers underneath, but the sappy pads and lead lines are cheese as fuck.

GJ: Also, this drummer is too mechanical.

MK: See they’re trying to be mechanical but not working

GJ: I love Brad Mehldau. I’m a super fan. But, good god.