© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Brad Mehldau's two new albums are 'After Bach II' and 'Après Fauré'

courtesy of the artist

Brad Mehldau has always drawn from classical music as well as jazz in his pianistic practice, finding in their confluence a persuasive and distinctly personal voice. Today he announced two new solo piano albums that speak to the play of those influences: After Bach II and Après Fauré, both due on Nonesuch Records on May 10.

As the title suggests, the first of these is a sequel to After Bach, a 2018 release that featured Mehldau’s dynamic interpretation of pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier. There are four preludes and one fugue from the same book on After Bach II, along with the Allemande from the Fourth Partita, interspersed with original ruminations both improvised and composed. (Among these offerings: “Variations on Bach’s Goldberg Theme.”) Nonesuch has shared two pieces from the album: a soulfully contrapuntal original titled “Between Bach,” and the Fugue No. 20 in A Minor.

“The more you try to engage with him, the more your own personality becomes visible, unavoidably,” Mehldau writes of Bach’s influence in his liner notes. Alluding to the constant negotiation of harmony and melody in the music, he adds: “This is why Bach is a model for me as a jazz musician. In my improvised solos, I want to make melodic phrases that carry harmonic implication, and create harmony that moves in a melodic fashion. This is a crucial component in the storytelling.”

Après Fauré features four of Gabriel Fauré’s 13 Nocturnes, and a portion of his Piano Quartet in G Minor (specifically, a reduction of the Adagio). The album also pays homage with four new Mehldau compositions — “Prelude,” “Caprice,” “Nocturne” and “Vision” — nestled as a suite. His “Prelude” is available now, with an animated scrolling score.

“Fauré’s harmonic imprint is on all four,” explains Mehldau in a statement. “There is also a textural influence, in terms of how he presented his musical material pianistically — he exploited the instrument’s sonority masterfully, as an expressive means. So, for example, in my first ‘Prelude,’ melody is welded to a continuous arpeggiation, both part of it and hovering above it; in my ‘Nocturne,’ it is possible to hear the harkening chordal approach in the opening of Fauré’s No. 12.”

Both Après Fauré and After Bach II underscore the deep synthesis in Mehldau’s concept as an interpreter of the classical tradition, and a composer-improviser carrying its lessons forward. Next Friday, he’ll perform a solo concert at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville — and take part in a panel that I’ll be moderating, alongside his fellow composers Darcy James Argue and Anna Webber. The name of the panel is “Composure,” as fitting a descriptor as you’ll find when Mehldau’s work is under consideration.

After Bach II and Après Fauré will be released on Nonesuch Records on May 10.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.