Brad Mehldau’s performance for the Folly Jazz Series on Saturday was a lesson in intrinsic quietude. He, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard functioned as a jazz-oriented Venn diagram: three identities overlapping, coalescing, independent yet organically linked.
Mehldau, on piano, seemed to display multiple personalities, his left hand searching out chords and accompaniments to the melodic concerns of the right hand, then vice versa.
The opening piece, “Spiral,” used a through-line of rolling chords, an entrancing feat of stamina. His classical chops surfaced with allusions to Bachian figures, altered into sequences of slurred turns.
Ballard’s style was more hectic and propulsive, generating intensity, especially on his solos. Though he often used brushes for a loose and generally reserved feel, his set work featured harder, stopped tones from dead sticking, rim shots and taps on the cymbal bell.
He also isolated sections of the kit, focusing on specific timbres, as when he sorted out a melody on the toms in Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin.”
Grenadier was the steady center, a solid pivot point with strong, direct pizzicato. His rhythmic focus grounded the trio, and he embellished his solos with sliding double stops, intricate walking lines, nuanced harmonics and a brief, but perfectly fitting, arco moment at the end of “My Ideal.”
It was nearly an hour into the program before Mehldau spoke to the Folly Theater’s audience. Instead, his trio played almost straight through, with no intermission, a selection of originals and arrangements transformed by his distinctive style.
Mehldau’s approach was languid, unhurried. Even the up-tempo tunes, like Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah,” had a laid-back approach, with a sort of sauntering swing.
Best, though, was his introspective approach to Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” laced with reminiscences, the long arc of the tune and quiet finish met with extended applause. There was similar growth with “Seymour Reads the Constitution,” a waltz of warm, smoky chords.
Technical difficulties delayed the concert’s start and frustrated the first tune, with little bass sounding in the house, and it took half a tune more to even out the balance. However, once that was achieved the attitude in the theater shifted, both band and audience becoming more receptive and alert.