- John Boy
- Don't Be Sad
- At the Tollbooth
- Highway Rider
- The Falcon Will Fly Again
- Now You Must Climb Alone
- Walking the Peak
Eight years ago, pianist-composer Brad Mehldau and Los Angeles-based producer Jon Brion (Dido, Kanye West, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright) collaborated on the groundbreaking Largo album. They mixed Mehldau originals with radically reinterpreted versions of pieces by Radiohead, the Beatles, and Nick Drake and brought a range of new instrumentation to Mehldau's sound, including horns, strings, vibes and electronics.
Highway Rider reunites Mehldau with Brion in an even more ambitious setting, with a broader instrumental palette. This two-disc, 15-track song cycle was written, orchestrated, and arranged by Mehldau and features his long-time rhythm section of drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier, along with old friends drummer Matt Chamberlain and saxophonist Joshua Redman as well as a chamber orchestra conducted by Dan Coleman. Highway Rider reflects Mehldau's recent experience writing long-form pieces, including the Carnegie Hall-commissioned Love Songs for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.
"I knew from working with Jon on Largo that he was the guy who would find a way to put all the pieces together for this project. It was really quite a beast sonically at some points-two drummers playing at the same time, bass, sax, and piano, and then the orchestra on top of that. I wanted to record everything live whenever possible but wasn't sure if we could do it. Jon had the foresight during the recording, and then a great deal of craft during the mixing, to bring it all together and sound like it does. And we were able to avoid what the conductor Dan Coleman jokingly referred to as ‘disco strings'- that is, adding the orchestra onto the jazz group's performance after the fact."
Mehldau does leave ample space for improvisation, though, eliciting some particularly exciting performances from Redman on tenor sax as he solos with the entire orchestra behind him.
Highway Rider is often breathtaking in its sweep, contrasting the intimacy of Mehldau's contemplative solo work with large-scale, purely orchestral pieces like "Now You Must Climb Alone" and "Always Departing." There's gravitas in this work, but also subtle humor and playfulness, especially on the flamenco-accented "The Falcon Will Fly Again," which features a clapping circle and children's voices. Mehldau and Brion have a unique chemistry as artist and producer. The rigor of Mehldau's writing is matched by its musical and emotional immediacy; the atmosphere of these sessions, held in February and May of 2009 at Ocean Way studio in Los Angeles, is as exhilarating for the listener as for all the musicians evolved. As Mehldau puts it, "It's so exciting to write something and have it in your head and then hear if for the first time being played by these magnificent players. It's really an emotional experience. I'm still reeling from it." From the Label