This was jazz, of course, but Friday night's restrained performance of the Brad Mehldau Trio at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild had a lot of near-classical nuance to it. It wasn't one of those shows that pounded music into an audience; you almost had to reach out and touch it as you would a flower.
And judging from the reaction, the listeners did just that.
The ensemble of pianist Mr. Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, opened up with a yet-to-be-titled ballad, featuring a spare solo from Mr. Mehldau. They followed that with a Jillian Welch tune, "Dark Turn of Mind," just as delicately styled as the first piece. (Of course, sometimes you don't need to play a lot of notes to be effective.) The Billy Harris tune "Crazyology," with chord changes similar to "I Got Rhythm," allowed Mr. Ballard to bash a bit, but even that didn't detract from the fairly somber mood.
The best overall number was the polyrhythmic "Ten Tune" -- called that likely because of its 10/4 meter -- which juxtaposed intricate lines from Mr. Mehldau, bowed bass from Mr. Grenadier and jazz brushes from Mr. Ballard. They shifted keys one-half step up and then back down.
Mr. Mehldau's gorgeous cadenza on the closing "These Foolish Things" represented probably the purest musical moment of the entire concert. I hope he recorded it because he probably could have gotten ideas for three or four tunes on that alone. Frankly, I wanted him to keep going.
The obligatory encore was "Jam," an original by Mr. Mehldau, somewhat of a rock ballad that also approached polyrhythms. Mr. Ballard got to show off again, soloing over the ostinato by Mr. Mehldau.
Rick Nowlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3871.