Review: Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and Beatles come together

This cover image released by Nonesuch Records shows “Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles,” by Brad Mehldau. (Nonesuch Records via AP)
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Associated Press

Brad Mehldau and the Beatles make a captivating jazz combo. It helps that Mehldau’s piano stylings have a range worthy of the Fab Four. He bridges the divides between Debussy and Professor Longhair, between rock and Rachmaninoff, his rhythms tipsy at times as he evokes saloon music and comic opera.

And that’s just on a 6½-minute rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” one of the 11 tunes on his new live solo album, “Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles.”

The album pairs jazz’s most lyrical living pianist with songwriting masters of melody, and Mehldau finds fresh radiance in the familiar tunes by exploring their elasticity, which is considerable. These performances show how Beatles songs invite improvisation thanks to their lilt, sturdy construction and sophisticated chord changes. Plus, as Mehldau observes in his liner notes, they swing.

He plays “Your Mother Should Know” as jaunty, sunny ragtime, and “She Said She Said” calls to mind film noir. A slow, gentle account of “Here, There and Everywhere” twinkles with discordant splashes and hints of Thelonious Monk, while “I Saw Her Standing There” is rollicking boogie-woogie that would be at home in the French Quarter.

Mehldau has long excelled as an interpreter of rock, the Beatles included, and to show the breadth of their influence, he closes the album with David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” Mehldau’s version seesaws from Broadway buildups to blues reflections before a closing symphonic flourish, which provides the exclamation mark the album deserves.q