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Brad Mehldau - After Bach (Nonesuch Records)
Stare a few moments at the spiral staircase on the cover of Brad Mehldau's latest record and you'll suddenly become unsure whether you're looking up or down. It's this somewhat vertiginous feeling, mixed with a paradoxical sense of logic and reason, that makes the music of Bach perpetually engaging and Mehldau - one of the most versatile of living pianists - acts as a reliable guide as we tackle this most disorienting spiral.
AFTER BACH is an entirely unaccompanied offering from Mehldau which presents straight-forward readings of a selection of JS Bach's Preludes and Fugues, interspersed with Brad's jazz-infused and deeply emotive "After Bach" pieces which erect some dazzling structures on the great composer's sturdy foundations. After Bach: Pastorale, for example, presents a dizzying ascent and descent of the scale, complete with some very welcome blue notes, whilst After Bach: Dream, with its languorous melody and creamy chords, suggests that Bach, Debussy and Bill Evans are each being channelled.
The album is bookended by two elegant Mehldau originals. And whilst the opening track Before Bach: Benediction introduces the classical-inspired journey we're about to take, Brad leaves his most exquisite work until last. With its reverent, elegiac chords and fizzing, high-noted finale, the eleven-minute Prayer for Healing is worth the purchase of this stunning LP alone.