Friday, March 15, 2013

Got You Covered: Frisell & Mehldau

I can't think of any two jazz players alive today who have been able to slip so seamlessly into mainstream pop consciousness as well as Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau. What Yo Yo Ma did for contemporary classical music, these two visionaries did for jazz. Frisell and Mehldau have transcended genre or niche and gained widespread status as beloved legends.

Both have been working for 3 decades now, each releasing record after record of incredibly beautiful original compositions as well as stunning re-imaginings of classic popular music. Brad Mehldau's two records with pop-producer Jon Brion, Largo and Highway Rider are some of the greatest jazz records of the last 25 years. Bill Frisell's 10 album stretch in the 90's is incomparable in it's consistency and strength. Few artists in any genre are as continuously impressive as these two.

One of the greatest reasons for their massive success and appeal is that they aren't purists. Far from it, in addition to George Gershwin and Charlie Christian, both site influences as diverse as John Hiatt, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson. This contributes to a risk taking in their playing that brings many more listeners to the table.

Jazz (especially contemporary jazz) can so often be an isolating and alienating world. The aura of pretentiousness around it is no doubt a self-defense mechanism. A response to accusations that the genre is decades long dead, relegated to one shelf in a record store, and inducing eye rolling or worse yet yawns in most of America. There is an instinct to turn inwards as a genre, as a movement, and call everything outside of that sphere frivolous. But when Mehldau and Frisell turn their virtuosic talent towards familiar and beloved pop compositions, they end up elevating not only the original pop song itself, but themselves by their courage to associate with it.

Bill Frisell - Surfer Girl (The Beach Boys)

Brad Mehldau - Paranoid Android (Radiohead)

Bill Frisell - Julia (The Beatles)

Brad Mehldau - God Only Knows (The Beach Boys)

Bill Frisell - Have A Little Faith In Me (John Hiatt)

Brad Mehldau - Bittersweet Symphony/Smells Like Teen Spirit (The Verve/Nirvana)

Bill Frisell - A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan)

Brad Mehldau- Wave/Mother Nature's Son (The Beatles)

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