CD review: Elan Mehler Trio

being thereBeing There, Here
(Challenge Records)

Mehler is one of the young pianists taking US jazz to new places in a gentle and sympathetic way by combining a personal approach to group improvisation with an eclectic songbook that is as likely to include a piece of Gillian Welch Americana (I Dream A Highway) as it does a bit of classic Ellington (In A Sentimental Mood).

For this album the trio – Max Goldman on drums, Tod Hedrick on bass – is recorded live at a spa hotel in Switzerland, the same hotel where Mehler was “discovered” thanks to UK DJ Gilles Peterson.

The playing has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it, as if Mehler, Goldman and Hedrick are playing for their own benefit in a corner of the hotel lounge while the guests largely ignore  them and chat and order eat and drink. Except for us, of course, alone at a table near the band, and giving them our full attention.

It reminds me of a piano trio album my father had – I think he had picked it up from a sale rack and he had no clue who the band was either – in which the the tinkling of glasses and clatter of cutlery could be heard throughout. The musical purists may mutter that they want to hear the music in holy silence but I liked it then and I like it now. The ambient noises here create a very special kind of atmosphere and places the music in a larger sound stage.

It’s a quiet, relatively peaceful and serenely easy-going set, starting slowly with an improv which settles into the Ellington via increasingly full melodic quotes, then working up to a fair head of steam by the time Monk’s Bemsha Swing is reached at track four. When I Fall In Love brings out the aching romantic in most piano players and Mehler is no exception, while Sy Oliver’s Yes Indeed shows he can also go a long way back both in taste and style.

Mehler and his mates also manage to play pretty music in a laid back way which nevertheless gets deep below the surface. A charming and rewarding listen, in short.

Categories: CD review

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