Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman played as a duo at the Stadtcasino in Basel tonight. They opened with a Mehldau original called "The Falcon Will Fly Again," during which I was struck by how much Redman's playing has developed since I last since him early in the millennium. He was already very good, but his phrases and phrasing tonight were so much more fluid and individual then they had been back then. In contrast, I wondered if Mehldau had any more room to develop at all: I've seen him four or five times since I first saw him in a solo show at the Basel Art Museum in 1999 or 2000, and he's always been fantastic, so good that there's little room to develop. His playing on this first piece was fabulous, but for this diehard Mehldau fan, not very surprising.
But then they played "Monk's Dream," and Mehldau proved me oh so wrong! I've always loved the way he plays that tune, but he and Redman arranged it in such a way that its usual driving rhythm only slowly developed out of an almost rubato approach. In Mehldau's long solo, one stunning passage went into the stride piano that was where Monk originally came from, but a version of stride refracted through the combination of the 80 years of jazz history since its heyday and the classical chops that have always been Mehldau's forte. Absolutely stunning—yes, he has developed since I first saw him!
The other highlight of the show for me was their arrangement of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." They made it sound so wonderfully melancholy, only to have it explode into something like the power of rock and roll near the end of Redman's tenor solo (Mehldau had taken the first solo). I love how Mehldau turns "pop" into jazz just as wonderfully as his predecessors did.