Jon Brion (guitar, guitar synth, piano percussion) and others
'Largo’ was recorded in 2001 and is the first record of Mehldau’s that departs from either the piano trio or solo format. It can be seen as the culmination of musical experiences that he gathered while living in Los Angeles, most notably the music he heard at Largo, a club in Hollywood he went to regularly and pays tribute to in the title of the record. Mehldau says, “I heard a lot of terrific singer-songwriters there for the first time – people like Rufus Wainright, Fiona Apple, Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann. I got re-introduced to how beautiful a good pop song can be through hearing them. Its depth is more about pairing something down, chiseling it into a strong, succinct statement – very different than jazz, which for me is often about going out on a limb and staying there.” Jon Brion, who has worked with those musicians variously as a sideman, producer, or songwriting collaborator, made a strong impression on Mehldau in his weekly engagement at Largo. The two met there and over the next few years and developed a musical friendship that eventually resulted in ‘Largo,’ with Jon Brion producing. It is a blend of two aesthetics that happily overlap: Mehldau’s jazz improvisation and Brion’s creative, rich production. The album is wide-ranging in texture and big in scale: Woodwind or brass ensembles are on several tracks, and one feature of the record is a heavy emphasis on powerful drums – Matt Chamberlain and veteran rock master Jim Keltner are the core rhythm on most of the album, often simultaneously playing, like on the cover of ‘Paranoid Android,’ whose middle section becomes a monster rock affair. Still, Jon Brion wisely keeps Mehldau’s piano at the center of things sonically and conceptually throughout the record; it never gets swallowed up in the mix, but hovers above and around the proceedings, occupying its own space. The opener, ‘When it Rains,’ is emblematic of the record. It combines the paired down simplicity of a pop song with the ‘out on a limb’ aesthetic of Mehldau’s improvisation. The effect on the listener is strong and directly emotional, and leaves you wanting more.