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Highway Rider

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Audio CD, March 16, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Nonesuch Records releases 'Highway Rider' a double-disc of original work by pianist and composer Brad Mehldau on March 16, 2010. The album is his second collaboration with renowned producer Jon Brion and features performances by Mehldau's trio, drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier as well as drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a chamber orchestra led by Dan Coleman. Mehldau also orchestrated and arranged the album's 15 pieces for the ensemble.

In a Nonesuch Store Exclusive, orders of the album through include as a bonus track a demo Mehldau recorded for Brion early on in the album's development, in which Mehldau explains how he'd like for the title track to unfold and offers a run-through on piano. Also included, as with almost all orders in the Nonesuch Store, is the complete album as audiophile-quality 320 kbps MP3's.

Although Brad Mehldau is best known as a jazz composer and improviser, he has written several long-form compositions and songs, including an orchestral piece called 'The Brady Bunch Variations' for the Orchestre National d'Île-de-France and two Carnegie Hall commissions: 'Love Songs' for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and 'Love Sublime' for soprano Renée Fleming.

'It's so exciting to write something and have it in your head and then hear it for the first time being played by these magnificent musicians,' he says. 'It s really an emotional experience. I'm still reeling from it.'

'For me, the biggest challenge was the orchestration; which notes to assign to what instruments. I've been studying lots of orchestral scores for a while now-Strauss, Brahms, Tchaikovsky; a lot of big romantic stuff in particular. But while I was writing, I was also listening closely to modern orchestrators and arrangers, and there are two who have made an impact on me especially François Rauber in his work with Jacques Brel, and Bob Alcivar in his work with Tom Waits.'

Jon Brion also produced Mehldau's 2002 album 'Largo,' and Mehldau had been hoping to work with him again since then. 'I knew from working with Jon on 'Largo' that he was the guy who would find a way to put all the pieces together for this project. It was really quite a beast sonically at some points-two drummers playing at the same time, bass, sax, and piano, and then the orchestra on top of that. I wanted to record everything live whenever possible but wasn't sure if we could do it. The first conversation with Jon about the music, that was for him a done deal it had to be live, with the orchestra and the jazz group playing together. Jon had the foresight during the recording, and then a great deal of craft during the mixing, to bring it all together and sound like it does. And we were able to avoid what the conductor Dan Coleman jokingly referred to as 'disco strings' that is, adding the orchestra onto the jazz group's performance after the fact.'

'Largo' was a step in a new direction for the pianist, incorporating horns, strings, vibes, and electronic instruments as well as Brion's unique production touches. As Brion points out, though, 'This time around, having done these classical things of late, and these different commissioned pieces he's had to write was a completely different thing. It s like, 'OK, I know what I learned from doing that last one. This time I have a specific angle.''
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 16, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B002U33GUQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,495 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Brad Mehldau has been hailed as one of the greatest jazz pianists since he came on the scene in the 90's and for good reason. His largest audience came with the 2002 release "Largo", a genre bending album, that got him the most attention and introduced a new audience (although polarizing some fans...likely the same kind of people who whined when Dylan plugged in) to Mehldau's work. The experimentation on the record was exciting and fresh, but he was soon back to his more traditional style with the self-assured straight-ahead (yet very rewarding) album "Anything Goes"(2004).

Now after numerous trio recordings, solo outings and collaborations, Brad Mehldau and Jon Brion bring us "Highway Rider", the highly anticipated sequel to Largo. Highway Rider is an album that really needs to be appreciated without any distractions, and preferably on nice equipment. This album was very uniquely recorded and sonically sounds different than almost anything I've ever heard. The nuances on this record are extremely important. When I sat down and listened to the record for the first time I was shocked when the orchestra suddenly crept into the trio soundscape. It is truly overwhelming. This is not "Charlie Parker with Strings" or any overtly-commercial type orchestration by any means. Think more along the lines of Phillip Glass. This is serious and intense material. These compositions are relentless in their dissonance, yet there are many beautiful moments that arrive out of this chaos. All of Mehldau's compositions on this album work together as a body of work, and all of the musicians and the orchestra are all of one voice in a way that no other orchestra/jazz album has ever done successfully. This work is truly a journey.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A. Zona on March 18, 2010
Format: Audio CD
This double-CD release from Brad Mehldau offers a variety of settings: Brad solo piano (one track); duet between Brad and Joshua Redman on tenor sax (one track); Mehldau trio (Larry Grenadier on acoustic bass and either Jeff Ballard and/or Matt Chamberlain on drums and/or percussions) (three tracks); Mehldau trio plus Joshua Redman (three tracks); Mehldau trio plus Joshua Redman and a chamber orchestra (five tracks); two tracks with the chamber orchestra only. Settings assorted as to describe a variety of landscapes, from joyful atmospheres to dark scenarios in a continuous up and down of sounds and musical ideas (all Brad original compositions). A musical travel between the easier pieces in trio and with Redman (in some ways vaguely recalling their Moodswing 1994 recording) to the slower and often shady orchestral parts. If you like the more conventional jazz releases of Mehldau (solo, trio, duo and quartet with Pat Metheny, duo with Joel Frahm 2004 Don't Explain) and you were disappointed by his 2001 release Largo, maybe this Highway Rider is not for you. If you enjoyed Brad jazz releases as well as Largo, maybe you will like HR too. Just keep in mind that HR is not Largo Part 2 (even if both releases have in common the same producer). While in Largo there is an homogeneous music presentation and you know you are listening to rock-influenced jazz, in HR you are travelling between modern acoustic jazz and something more similar to contemporary classical music with jazz contaminations. Whichever the case, just one attention: HR requires repeated listening to be fully appreciated. At first it's easy to be disoriented by its unpredictability.Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Volovets on April 13, 2010
Format: Audio CD
Brad Mehldau is an amazing pianist and leads an equally amazing trio. I had the good fortune of catching one of their shows at The Dakota Jazz Club, and was blown away by the trio's communication and choice of repertoire. I bought a few of his albums -- including this one -- but Highway Rider was the last one I listened to. While his earlier albums are ample evidence of his brilliant treatments of classic tunes, this album is a testament to his talent as a composer.

Highway Rider almost seems like a concept album sans a story... but there is definitely a narrative here. The music tells the story better than words ever could -- give the 2CD set a listen and you'll know what I'm talking about. His performances and improvisations are ego-free. There's only one solo piano piece on this album; that speaks for itself, I think.

The orchestration is excellent. I don't see why some people are writing it off as "elevator music" or "cheesy". Does that make any and all orchestration in jazz "cheesy"? No, sorry, it's only when it's blatantly commercial that it becomes annoying. Here, it is obvious that Brad studied orchestration for a while before attempting to write these compositions.

In short -- pick this one up if: you're a fan of harmonically interesting, melodic, modern jazz; you enjoyed Brad's more ambitious compositions; you don't mind tasteful orchestration; you are able to temper your expectations accordingly. This isn't another trio album. As much as I love piano trios, this is Brad's best work. While he is only 39, it may seem too early to call this album his "magnum opus". But it will take a lot to top this record.
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