One of the most acclaimed pianists of his generation, Brad Mehldau is a virtuoso performer with an ear for deeply nuanced, harmonically sophisticated acoustic jazz. While Mehldau is one of the more absorbing and thoughtful practitioners within that idiom, he is also receptive to the idea of using material from the rock era (Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" for example). Though Mehldau's training is primarily classical, his interest in jazz began early and he has subsequently utilized both forms throughout his career. This is evident on his first (of five) Art of the Trio volume, and on 2006's House on Hill and 2010's Day Is Done. Both originals and covers of popular music standards — from Radiohead to Nick Drake to Paul Simon — reflect that his playing and compositional style owes as much to the 20th century classical impressionism of Claude Debussy as it does Bill Evans. He delivers classically oriented recordings on his own and with singers Renée Fleming and Anne Sofie von Otter, but he has also issued cross-pollinated explorations of J.S. Bach's classical pieces on After Bach, while concurrently expanding the depth and breadth of the jazz piano tradition on Ode and Seymour Reads the Constitution.
Another Art of the Trio album came out in 2001, but the most significant release was Largo, which featured Mehldau performing with other groups outside of his usual trio format. This was a big change from his previous work and offered new challenges as he adapted to several interesting lineup situations. Mehldau followed the genre-bending album with the standards-based Anything Goes and Live in Tokyo in 2004, with Day Is Done arriving the following year. In 2006, he released House on Hill as well as Love Sublime, the latter with soprano vocalist Renée Fleming on Nonesuch Records. Mehldau chose to work with his trio plus Pat Metheny on Quartet in 2007; he followed it up with the double-disc Live in 2008, which was recorded with his trio at the Village Vanguard.
On December 6, 2011, while Mehldau was at the beginning of a world tour, Nonesuch issued a box set entitled Art of the Trio Recordings: 1996–2001. The set includes the five Art of the Trio albums — the last a double-disc — that were originally issued on Warner Bros. The box also included a seventh disc of previously unreleased material from shows at the Village Vanguard in 1997, 1999, and 2001. A year later, the Brad Mehldau Trio released two studio albums: the all-original Ode and a companion collection of cover songs, Where Do You Start. The pianist then joined drummer/electronicist Mark Guiliana for the duo's collaborative 2014 effort, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon.
In July, Mehldau released the solo recital Suite: April 2020. Recorded while sheltering with his family in Amsterdam during the COVID-19 pandemic, the work included 12 original compositions and three favorite standards that, according to the pianist, "... provide a musical snapshot of life in the last month in the world in which we’ve all found ourselves...." Issued digitally and in a numbered, limited-edition run of 1,000 deluxe 180-gram vinyl LPs, all of the latter's proceeds were donated to the Jazz Foundation of America's COVID-19 Musician's Emergency Fund. (CDs and standard vinyl editions were released by Nonesuch in September, also with a significant portion of sales donated to benefit JFA's fund.) ~ Richard S. Ginell & Thom Jurek