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Music Review: 'Ten Years Solo Live,' Brad Mehldau

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now a peek into the creative process of one of modern music's most innovative thinkers.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "GOD ONLY KNOWS")

SHAPIRO: The pianist Brad Mehldau spent part of this year listening back to recordings of 40 solo concerts that he performed in Europe over the last decade. He grouped the highlights, including works by Brahms and Jeff Buckley, into thematic listening experiences spread over four CDs or eight vinyl records. It's called "10 Years Solo Live." Tom Moon has our review.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "GOD ONLY KNOWS")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: In his liner notes for this anthology, Brad Mehldau shares one of his tricks. He doesn't always stick to what the composer intended. Instead, he'll fixate on a small kernel of a theme and improvise on that, working it over bit by granular bit until the tune has been fundamentally transformed.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "GOD ONLY KNOWS")

MOON: Mehldau does these overhauls on standards and jazz classics like John Coltrane's "Countdown" and pop anthems of the '90s like the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." Here's the moment after he's been pounding out the chord progression for a while when he decides it's time to stretch out.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY/WATERLOO SUNSET")

MOON: The set includes Mehldau's vivid re-imaginings of works by the Beatles, Radiohead Brahms and the Thelonious Monk. That's a wide range of music, yet he never sounds out of his element. He plays Nirvana like it's Brahms, plays Brahms like it's Nirvana.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "BRAHMS: INTERMEZZO IN E MINOR, OP. 119: NO. 2")

MOON: It takes about 300 minutes to listen to this set from start to finish and much longer than that to fully absorb it. Mehldau's music can be cerebral. But some things come through right away - his fluid technique, his instinct for reframing melodies, his gift for spinning epic narratives out of shards and fragments. Here's what's most mind-blowing. He's doing this live, in the moment, unscripted, in front of an audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT")

SHAPIRO: The latest from Brad Mehldau is called "10 Years Solo Live." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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