Brad Mehldau's warm, utterly enveloping effort, 2016's Blues and Ballads, finds the pianist leading his trio through a set of well-curated standards and covers. The album follows up his genre-bending 2014 collaboration with electronic musician Mark Guiliana, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, and smartly showcases his return to intimate acoustic jazz. Admittedly, the title, Blues and Ballads, is somewhat misleading, as Mehldau only tackles one actual blues with his jaunty, off-kilter take on Charlie Parker's "Cheryl." Otherwise, the blues of the title is implied more in the earthy lyricism of a handful of ballads.
Oliver Nelson had recorded several sessions for Prestige when the fledgling Impulse! label gave him the opportunity to make this septet date in 1961. The result was a rare marriage between an arranger-composer's conception and the ideal collection of musicians to execute it. The material is all based somehow on the blues, but Nelson's structural and harmonic extensions make it highly varied, suggesting ballads, hoedowns, and swing. The band is one of those groupings that seem only to have been possible around 1960, a roster so strong that the leader's name was actually listed fourth on the cover. Nelson shares the solo space with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, alto saxophonist and flutist Eric Dolphy, and pianist Bill Evans, while bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Roy Haynes contribute support and baritone saxophonist George Barrow adds depth. In stark contrast to Dolphy's brilliant, convulsive explosions, Nelson's tenor solos are intriguingly minimalist, emphasizing a tight vibrato and unusual note choices. It's not quite Kind of Blue (nothing is), but Blues and the Abstract Truth is an essential recording, one that helped define the shape of jazz in the '60s. ~ Amazon