Brad Mehldau has released a new track from his upcoming album, Jacob’s Ladder, “Tom Sawyer." The song, Mehldau’s interpretation of the Rush classic, features his Nonesuch Records label mate Chris Thile on lead vocals and mandolin as well as Joel Frahm on saxophones and Mark Guiliana on drums; Mehldau plays keyboards and provides additional vocals. You can watch the video here. This follows the recent release of the album's opening track, "maybe as his skies are wide," which builds off an interpolation of one portion of "Tom Sawyer."
Brad Mehldau has released a new track from his upcoming album, Jacob’s Ladder, “Tom Sawyer." The song, Mehldau’s interpretation of the Rush classic, features his Nonesuch Records label mate Chris Thile on lead vocals and mandolin as well as Joel Frahm on saxophones and Mark Guiliana on drums; Mehldau plays keyboards and provides additional vocals. You can watch the video here:
This follows the recent release of the album's opening track, "maybe as his skies are wide," which builds off an interpolation of one portion of "Tom Sawyer." You can watch that video here.
Jacob’s Ladder, due March 18 on CD and digitally with a vinyl version due later in the year, features new music that reflects on scripture and the search for God through music inspired by the prog rock Mehldau loved as a young adolescent, which was his gateway to the fusion that eventually led to his discovery of jazz. Additional featured musicians on the album include another label mate, Cécile McLorin Salvant, as well as Becca Stevens and others. Nonesuch Store pre-orders include an exclusive signed, limited-edition print while they last.
Mehldau explains, “We are born close to God, and as we mature, we invariably move further and further away from Him on account of our ego. Jacob’s Ladder begins at that place closer to God with the voice of child, and then moves into the world of action. God is always there, but in our discovery and conquest, and all the joys and sorrows they bring, we may lose sight of him. He sets a ladder before us though, like in Jacob’s dream, and we climb towards him, to find reconciliation with ourselves, to stitch up all those worldly wounds and finally heal. The record ends with my vision of heaven—once again as a child, His child, in eternal grace, in ecstasy.
“The musical conduit on the record is prog,” Mehldau continues. “Prog—progressive rock—was the music of my childhood, before I discovered jazz. It matched the fantasy and science fiction books I read from C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and others at that time, aged ten through twelve. It was my gateway to the fusion of Miles Davis, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and other groups, which in turn was the gateway to more jazz. Jazz shared with prog a broader expressive scope and larger-scale ambitions than the rock music I had known already.
“The prog from Rush, Gentle Giant, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer here only hints at the genre’s conceptual, compositional and emotional range. These bands and others have continued to influence newer groups that bring prog impulses into the arena of hard rock and screaming math metal, like Periphery, whose music is included here, and also inspired the screaming vocals on ‘Herr und Knecht.’ I tried to avoid a direct tribute approach to all the songs, and opted in some cases for excerpts, or reworking of themes.”
Although Brad Mehldau is best known as a jazz composer and improviser, he has made several albums that fall outside of the mainstream jazz genre, including his 2001 Largo, produced by Jon Brion. Wide-ranging in texture and big in scale, it features woodwind or brass ensembles are on several tracks, as well as a heavy emphasis on powerful drums. In 2010, Nonesuch released his second collaboration with Brion, Highway Rider, which includes performances by Mehldau’s trio—drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier—as well as drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and a chamber orchestra led by Dan Coleman. Mehldau also orchestrated and arranged the album’s fifteen pieces for the ensemble.
Mehldau’s 2014 collaboration with Mark Guiliana, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, featured Mehldau on Fender Rhodes and synthesizers and Guiliana on drums and effects, playing twelve original tunes—six by the duo and six by Mehldau. His 2019 album Finding Gabriel featured performances by him on piano, synthesizers, percussion, and Fender Rhodes, as well as vocals. Guest musicians included Ambrose Akinmusire, Sara Caswell, Kurt Elling, Joel Frahm, Mark Guiliana, Gabriel Kahane, and Becca Stevens, among others.