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 as evident on his first Art of the Trio volume (of five) as it is on 2006's House on Hill and 2010's Day Is Done, on which 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. While he delivers classically oriented recordings on his own and with singers Renée Fleming and Anne Sofie von Otter, 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 recorded 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.
Mehldau followed with Finding Gabriel, a recording outside the confines of post-bop jazz that aligned more closely with his other slipstream albums such as Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, Largo, and the Highway Rider. The set included nine thematically related originals by Mehldau, who played piano, synthesizers, percussion, and Fender Rhodes, as well as delivering wordless vocals. The album sessions also offered contributions from guests such as Akinmusire, Giuliana, Sara Caswell, Kurt Elling, Joel Frahm, Gabriel Kahane, Becca Stevens, and others. Its inspiration was taken from a biblical prophecy as related through the ages by the angel Gabriel. The set was released in the spring of 2019. ~ Richard S. Ginell