Elan Mehler – ‘Being There, Here’
Elan Mehler is a gifted young jazz pianist who is turning heads with his music. That’s not surprising because when he plays he creates the sonic equivalent of magic – something that world-renowned DJ, label boss, and talent spotter, Gilles Peterson, can readily attest to. While on vacation he first heard the six-foot-eight Israeli-American playing in a Swiss hotel at a spa resort and promptly added Mehler to his roster at the Brownswood label. Five years on and Mehler, who has three studio albums under his belt - 2007’s ‘Scheme For Thought,’ 2009’s ‘The After Suite’ and his 2010 collaboration with singer Adam McBride-Smith ‘Half Seas Over’– now makes his debut for the Challenge label with an acoustic piano trio recording.
‘Being There, Here’ captures Mehler’s threesome (Tod Hedrick on bass with drummer Max Goldman) playing in Therme Vals, Switzerland, the very spa hotel where the pianist was first ‘discovered’ performing by Gilles Peterson. The ambience of their surroundings – peaceful and reflective - is vastly different from a normal jazz club date and as a result Mehler’s largely introspective repertoire mirrors this fact. The set opens with a dreamy rendition of Duke Ellington’s immortal ‘In A Sentimental Mood.’ It’s the first of three classic Ellington songs that are present on the album - the other two are ‘Reflections In D,’ which is reconfigured as a meditative nocturne, and ‘Solitude,’ a haunting ballad that closes the album.
Mehler also demonstrates a blend of wit, imagination and originality with distinctive versions of Sy Oliver’s ‘Yes Indeed,’ and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’ while a dreamy rendition of another well-loved standard, Victor Young & Edward Heyman’s ‘When I Fall In Love,’ highlights the pianist’s crystalline right-hand fi ligrees and lush tonal shading. The pianist also shows an intuitive understanding of the bossa nova style with his slow-burning take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Brazilian classic, ‘Insensatez.’
But Mehler isn’t a jazz musician whose repertoire is dominated by standards. The album’s title track was originally an acoustic guitar instrumental written by Matt Joy, a songwriter friend of Mehler’s based in Nashville, Tennessee (the two played together in a high school jazz trio and more recently, the pianist recorded Joy’s ‘Factory’ on ‘The After Suite’). It’s a reflective mood piece characterised by highly intuitive musical interplay from Mehler and his trio, which has been together now for eight years (Tod Hedrick, by the way, has played on all of Mehler’s previous recordings for Brownswood while Max Goldman was present on ‘The After Suite’ and ‘Half Seas Over,’).
More downbeat is ‘I Dream A Highway,’ a slice of atmospheric Americana written by alternative country stars Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and which Mehler first deconstructed on, ‘The After Suite.’ Here, the song becomes a hushed, stately hymnal that gradually builds in intensity and captures the spirit and stark simplicity of Welch’s original. By contrast, Mehler’s self-penned ‘Waltz Ferwerda’ – a swirling stream of sophisticated chords and dextrous right-hand improvisation rendered in a lively 3/4 tempo - shows another facet of the pianist’s musical character. On ‘Being There, Here,’ Elan Mehler and his trio acknowledge the jazz tradition while doing something distinctly individual – there might be faint echoes of Bill Evans, perhaps, or Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau in the DNA of Mehler’s music but he’s mature enough to be his own man. And he can make the piano sing – with grace, elegance, wit and an enchanting, hypnotic beauty.
Charles Waring is the jazz columnist for Record Collector and a regular contributor to MOJO magazine. He’s also written for Wax Poetics, Shook and Blues & Soul and is co-owner of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com
When Elan Mehler plays, people stop what they are doing and listen in rapt attention – and for anyone who doubts that assertion then this new live album, where there’s no audible sign of a restless or an indifferent audience and only the occasional clink of a glass, provides compelling evidence of the Boston pianist’s communicative powers as a musician. When he plays he creates the sonic equivalent of magic – something that world-renowned DJ, label boss, and talent spotter, Gilles Peterson, can readily attest to. While on vacation he first heard the six-foot-eight Israeli-American playing in a Swiss hotel at a spa resort and promptly added Mehler to his roster at the Brownswood label. Five years on and Mehler, who has two studio albums under his belt - 2007’s ‘Scheme For Thought’ and 2009’s ‘The After Suite’ – now makes his debut for the Challenge label with an acoustic piano trio recording.