The Nordstrom Recital Hall was home to the first performance by a headliner of the 2011 Earshot Jazz Festival Friday night, with a mesmerizing solo piano performance from Brad Mehldau. The intimate setting was perfect for this concert, which was completely acoustic. No wires, no amps, no microphones, simply Mehldau and the piano and the acoustics of the beautiful room.
And it appears that Mehldau was the perfect musician for this environment. Each note seemed so painstakingly deliberate and important, and one might assume that a room any larger or less acoustically superb would allow the notes to not properly reach the ear as intended.
While simply posting a list of the songs performed might sound like it was simply an evening of “covers” (with tunes written from everyone from Hendrix to Monk, from Radiohead to Jeff Buckley), Mehldau’s artistic arrangements and creative improvisation could be convincing, in many cases, that the tune was his own. His personality and style was apparent in each song, and it was clear why he has been billed as one of the most lyrical and intimate solo performers alive.
With the exception of the guy sitting behind me that needed to announce the title of each song out loud as he recognized it, the crowd sat silent and awestruck until the last note of each song could no longer be heard, and then would burst into applause and cheers. At the end of the program, the audience would not let him leave, persuading him into not one, not two, but three encore performances.
I was about 30 minutes into my drive home when it hit me that I hadn’t had the radio on the entire way. I then came to the realization that I had been hearing the last four bars of his final tune, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years playing over and over again in my head. This is a song we all know, but was performed with such touch and artistry by Mehldau. After realizing this, I kept the radio off for the remainder of my drive, and kept listening.
Other highlights from the first week of the Earshot Jazz Festival
Those who chose to head to the Chapel Performance Space on Tuesday night were rewarded with a high-octane avant-garde performance by the Rich Halley Trio + 1. Halley, a veteran sax man from Portland, was joined by his son Carson on drums, Vancouver bassist Clyde Stewart, and guest trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, who gelled nicely with this band. The soft-spoken Halley seemed to let his wild side out via his sax, demonstrating great range and skill while creating intense solos. Highlights included Snippet Stop Warp and Requiem for a Pit Viper.
Vocalist Beat Kaestli treated a good crowd at Tula’s on Thursday to his unique vocal style over a wide variety of songs ranging from standards to originals. Backed by a talented Seattle trio (Bill Anschell on piano, Clipper Anderson, bass and Mark Ivester on drums), the Swiss-born New Yorker demonstrated his versatility on tunes like The Nearness of You and La Vie En Rose. A highlight was the love song Eso, which Kaestli described as a song with Spanish lyrics, written by a New York composer set in Brazil.