Acoustic Sounds

Brad Mehldau

Your Mother Should Know



Label: Nonesuch Records

Produced By: Samuel Thiebaut

Engineered By: Philharmonie de Paris

Mixed By: Nicolas Poitrenaud

Mastered By: Greg Calbi and Steve Fallon at Sterling Sound, Edgewater, NJ

Lacquers Cut By: Joe Nino-Hernes

By: Michael Fremer

February 23rd, 2023





When Brad Plays The Beatles It's Not a Cry For Attention

he's been doing it on (not in) the road

Often it's a cry for attention or money when a veteran jazz artist releases a Christmas album or one of Beatles covers. Brad Mehldau's latest, an album of the latter with Bowie's meloncholic "Life on Mars" serving as a sort of denouement (or encore, as this is a live album recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris), is neither of those.

Mehldau, 52, has been covering rock music without apology almost from the beginning of his recording career. His first as bandleader, Introducing Brad Mehldau (it wasn't on Vee-Jay because his label didn't think he had commercial potential), featured Christian McBride, Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier and included originals and covers of older "standards" but he later "crossed over" into rock with Radiohead Neil Young and The Beatles covers that brought him a new audience without diminishing enthusiasm for his playing among the jazz cognescenti.

This live recital recorded late summer 2020 in Paris features an intriguing mix of Beatles songs, ranging from among the unique and enigmatic ("I Am The Walrus", "She Said She Said") to the mundane ("I Saw Her Standing There"), to the "frumpy" "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Your Mother Should Know), to the memorably melodic ("Here, There And Everywhere", "Golden Slumbers").

By the time Mehldau was born, the Beatles had already broken up, so he points out in his excellent annotation that his formative musical experiences were with next-gen artists like Billy Joel and Supertramp. Only later did he discover The Beatles and that helped him tie together his early musical introductions.

In his notes that will illuminate an understanding and appreciation of The Beatles even for the group's most ardent fans, Mehldau touches upon McCartney's "music hall" upbringing, the musical means by which Beatles songs "swing", the similarity of dotted 8th note rhythmic approaches utilized by Beatles, Beach Boys and Zombies—Mehldau references the "under-appreciated" Odyssey (SIC) and Oracle—and how that gives the songs a unique "lilt" and "swing". He also does an excellent job explaining The Beatles' universality and longevity.

Really, even if you don't play the record—even if you buy and hang on the wall as some surveys ridiculously suggest up to half of record buyers mostly do—it's worth buying for the notes alone, which also make clear that Mehldau is unapologetically enthusiastic about this music and how deeply embedded it is in his own compositional DNA.

But of course you will play this record, and it's one I found myself repeatedly playing as each spin delivers new insights and unexpected pleasures even within the most familiar tunes. For the most part Mehldau delivers the melody with his right hand and the counterpoint and embellishment with his left, producing a rich, "high thread count" tapestry and using minor key construction to create an approach to these songs that's both forward looking and nostalgia laden. Obviously, McCartney's music hall songs work well with that approach but so do the more enigmatic Lennon tunes.

The arrangements work so well because Mehldau's approach is to not "jazz them up" too much (though there's stride piano inflections referenced throughout and even some "funky" moves), but rather to use his harmonic and rhythmic skills to produce a high wire act that keeps drama and surprise alive throughout, even on the most familiar material. That the audience sat suspended "mid air" was clear as each song ended and it broke into applause tinged with a kind of palpable but appreciative relief (though "I Saw Her Standing There" has weak "lift off). Repeated plays always deliver new insights and pleasures, like (for me) the way on "I Am the Walrus" he quotes and recreates the string arrangement.

In the notes Mehldau gives a "shout out" to Rick Wakeman for his unforgettable keyboard contribution to "Life on Mars". Though I don't think he was trying, Mehldau's version sans vocals takes the pianistic embellishments and drama to a new level of "Also Spruce Zarathustra" finale heights!

The sound here, the on-stage piano bathed in natural hall reverb but remaining solidly fixes in space, matches the performance. The soundstage is huge and three-dimensional, the piano sound, rich and both timbrally and texturally spectacular as well as dynamically full-bodied.

Joe Nino-Hernes' cut—whatever he did or did not do with the file he received— is as huge as the big 70's era land yachts he likes to drive, but thankfully your cartridge will handle the grooves better than his favorite cars do twisty roads.

Get this record. It's addictive for both music and sound.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: Nonesuch 075597909357

Pressing Plant: Record Industry


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 140 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: digital files

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-02-23 05:19:45 PM

    bwb wrote:

    I appreciate you pointing out that the recent Patricia Barber album was better on your digital system than the vinyl. With a limited budget for vinyl, it is nice to know. So in this case, especially since it comes from digital files, it would be great to know if I should invest in vinyl or just stream it and spend my vinyl $$ on something else. I realize you can't review/contrast/compare everything but when you can, it is very useful

    FWIW I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the performance.

    • 2023-02-23 06:01:14 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I wrote that the Barber sounded different on vinyl and high res digital. I didn't compare the stream of this one, which is worth owning just for Mehldau's excellent notes! But I'll give the stream a listen.

      • 2023-02-23 07:19:27 PM

        bwb wrote:

        Ok, but these comments sure mean to me that the digital is better...... "So as good as the vinyl sounds cut by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, it only sounds great until you hear the MQA edition through a good DAC. " & " If you're used to the vinyl edition and then hear the DXD version, you'll know from the opening bass line of Lee Hazelwood's "This Town" that this version is in another class. Barber's voice sounds "sweet" on the LP. She sounds eerily in your room on the master file. There's a serious uptick in overall transparency and macrodynamic detail and resolution."....... When you say the LP only sounds great until you hear the digital, doesn't that mean the digital is greater? How else can one take that? .... ... In any case, listening to the stream of Mehldau now and it does indeed sound wonderful.... point taken on the notes

        • 2023-02-23 10:21:59 PM

          Michael Fremer wrote:

          You are correct…

  • 2023-02-24 07:20:20 AM

    Musigny wrote:

    Michael, I saw you talk about your favourite Pet Sounds version on vinyl. Did you listen to Pet Sounds digital 2012 release in 24/192? In stereo, obviously. To me, terrific sound.

    • 2023-02-24 09:29:38 AM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Yes. I well done stereo version but Brian's intent was mono so I stick with that one....