After Bach by Brad Mehldau
I come to Brad Mehldau’s latest album After Bach with classical rather than jazz ears. The album is structured around excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II, and each alternate track is composed by Mehldau, literally ‘After Bach’. Glenn Gould’s interpretation of Well-Tempered Clavier is my touchstone, and I reacquainted myself with his recording for the purpose of this review. The impressive thing about Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is the way each prelude and fugue demonstrates the individual temperament of each key. For example, the opening C-major prelude is bright and optimistic, and exudes the homely familiarity we associate with that key. Mehldau’s interpretation, Pastorale, displays a similar openness, over which he grafts his jazz-infused chromaticism.
Such is Mehldau’s technical assurance that I was surprised to discover that his background is not, in fact, in classical music. His Bach is crisp and precise, and he does well to differentiate the distinct voices in movements such as the G-minor fugue. His own compositions segue cleanly into the Bach, much in the way that Bach’s own preludes and fugues are designed to transition into each subsequent key. After Bach is meditative and hypnotic, and will appeal to jazz and classical listeners alike.