Brad Mehldau: That’s the stuff

In late March 2010, I was seven months into my field work in Mexico City, living on my own in a tiny studio apartment at the back of a garage (an apartment complex’s garage, not a working garage) in the south of the city. Now, Mexico City is the bee’s knees, and I loved my time there. I even have fond memories of that apartment and the people I met there (hi, Evi and Hugo!). But being away from home for that long can wear you down.

One evening I decided to see a solo piano show. I figured it might be a nice way to relieve some of that stress. I didn’t recognize the name of the artist because I didn’t really follow the jazz scene.

It turned out to be a great decision. The show itself was an intimate performance in the wonderful Lunario of the Mexico City National Auditorium (both are fantastic venues — I saw Massive Attack, Franz Ferdinand and the Pet Shop Boys in the Auditorio Nacional and Au Revoir Simone, Bomba Estereo, and I think Hello Seahorse! at the Lunario). It turned out be be exactly what I needed: an evening of mellow and calming tuneage.

But what really made it a memorable evening was when, during one song, I thought I heard a song I recognized, and which sounded a lot like Smells Like Teen Spirit. Because that’s what it was.

The incongruity of hearing a Nirvana song (and Massive Attack’s Teardrop!) at a piano recital buoyed my spirit for days afterwards. I still smile when thinking of my unexpected delight at hearing it. What a fantastic show.

It was only afterwards that I discovered that pop covers are kind of Brad Mehldau’s thing, in addition to being a fantastically talented jazz pianist. I’ve been a fan ever since.

I bring this up today because as of a few hours ago, he has a new album out. Suite: April 2020 is his reaction to the pandemic isolation everyone’s been dealing with. And damned if he didn’t pull the same trick on me again!

It’s been a pretty intense week of writing, revisions and meetings — minor stuff compared to the epic upheavals occurring everywhere, but still stuff that one needs to deal with. Solo piano was exactly what I needed.

Anyway, I gave it a listen, and it’s wonderful. As music does sometimes, it faded into the background. Until, while I was intensely focusing on just the right wording for a paragraph on data governance, I hear a familiar melody…

And it’s Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down. And immediately I’m back in the Lunario in Mexico City, same feeling of unexpected recognition, same wide smile on my face, the same lifting of tension I barely realized I was carrying.

If you like solo piano music, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m not saying that it will automatically make your life better, but I’m also not not saying that it won’t do that. It’s just great.

(You can hear Mehldau’s take on Smells Like Teen Spirit on his 2015 album 10 Years Solo Live, or listen below.)

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