Brad Mehldau: Jacob’s Ladder review – prog rock and Bible stories make for unique, ingenious jazz

(Nonesuch)
The pianist draws on an unlikely combination of childhood obsessions for this hard-hitting, audacious electronic hybrid

The great jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has long relished ambiguities above predictable outcomes, and delicacy over muscle, but it was 70s prog-rock that obsessed him in his classical-pianist childhood, and indirectly became his route into jazz via the 70s/80s electric music of Miles Davis, Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Jacob’s Ladder is the latest of several hard-hitting electronic hybrids that he has scattered as tributes to that past among his beautifully crafted acoustic chamber-jazz ventures over the years. Some might flinch at the core materials here – prog rock and Christian scriptures – but this epic venture’s panoramic soundscape, storyteller’s control of dynamics, and canny use of guest players including country-music mandolinist/singer Chris Thile and jazz/hip-hop drums maestro Mark Guiliana, show how far Mehldau has come as a sophisticated manipulator of complex materials.

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