Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brad Mehldau, Chris Thile blend, bend and transcend boundaries

When the superb Brad Mehldau was announced as coming to Austin, tickets had to be bought and I was perhaps a little concerned when I learned that instead of the trio format, Brad was performing in a duo format with Chris Thile a mandolin player. Well, so much for preconceptions as the 90 minute show last night at the beautiful Paramount Theater was a sheer, unbridled celebration of music without boundaries. Mehldau has hands that command the keys with such ease that he offers both drive and counterplay touches simultaneously, a true joy to watch while you listen. Thiele plays the mandolin like   a guitarist, wresting lead lines, bends, riffs and runs that give you a new appreciation of the instrument's potential.

While the musical selections were varied, from "I cover the waterfront" through Irish airs and Fiona Apple to Dylan's  "Don't think twice it's alright", the tune selection was less the point than the way the duo took the tunes apart and reassembled them. Yes, with players this good you are going to get staggering, virtuoso moments but for me, the incredible interplay between them, with each taking turns to lead yet apparently effortlessly slipping behind to provide the bass and rhythm when the other soared, only for both to dance around the tune together, back and forth, was a joy to behold. Yes, the music transcended musical boundaries, reminding us again and again last night of the common humanity behind all forms, the players themselves transcended roles and created a live musical experience that I doubt could easily transfer to a recording. Magical stuff indeed.

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