Brad Mehldau Trio Rocks the House

Mehldau stages triumphant return concert.

Dan Atkinson

In the final installment of the Athenaeum Jazz at the Scripps Research Institute fall concert series, the internationally acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau returned to La Jolla with his working trio comprised of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.

Like the recent Charles Lloyd event at the Athenaeum -- this concert had been sold out for months and was standing-room-only. I think I saw every jazz musician who didn’t have a gig that night somewhere in the audience.

The trio began strong with the quirky “Solid, Jackson,” gliding along the woody pulse of Grenadier and the amazingly precise ride cymbal articulations of Ballard, who followed Mehldau’s graceful opening statement with an infectiously joyful brush solo.

These cats have played so much together, and you can really hear it in the way they interact with each other at the deepest level -- whether it was the swirling, complex throb of “After the After,” or the untitled, harmonically dense exchange between Mehldau’s intricate unisons and the seemingly bottom-less font of soft clicks and accents that drive Ballard’s intense contributions.

Grenadier’s deep and pliant tone was a constant joy to behold -- yet I wasn’t prepared for the solo he dropped during a wrenching reading of Sidney Bechet’s “If You See My Mother,” which achieved a blue intimacy that I’m still trying to recover from. Everyone dug deep on this exposition -- providing a truly magical moment in an evening chock-full of them.

This has been one of the most musically innovative seasons for Daniel Atkinson and the folks at Athenaeum Jazz, each concert, starting with the Mark Dresser Octet (my personal favorite), continuing through sold-out affairs by Lloyd and Mehldau, have been celebrations .

The magic continues next February with an extremely rare West Coast appearance by the legendary Gary Peacock Trio with Joey Baron and Marc Copland.

I can hardly wait.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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