Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

Steeped from the outset of his career in the acoustic-piano trio idiom, Brad Mehldau has also been drawn to projects involving synths, unusual chamberlike textures and most recently vocals, on 2019’s Finding Gabriel and again here with the prog-rock-inspired Jacob’s Ladder. Collaborators include Chris Thile, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Becca Stevens and Pedro Martins, plus the beasts Mark Guiliana on drums and Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor saxes. Mehldau, however, creates a good deal of the ambitious sonic architecture of Jacob’s Ladder himself. He uses Moogs, E-mus, Oberheims, Korgs, Wurlitzer, Rhodes and Mellotron, not to mention a Steinway grand or two—all this in addition to the biblical verses in English and Dutch, Hegel passages in German, primal screams and such—to create an unabashedly sprawling love letter to the prog-rock enthusiasms of his youth. Rush is not the only influence, but it’s a big one: Mehldau’s renditions of “Tom Sawyer” and “Jacob’s Ladder” are grand re-compositions, jaw-dropping in their complexity and surprise, the latter pulsing with the excitement of Mehldau’s undimmed improvisational depth and chops on acoustic piano. The suite “Heaven”, which employs two of the three movements of “Starship Trooper” by Yes, is a gift to lovers of that band and an expressive triumph of its own (Pedro Martins’ acoustic guitar transition to “Würm” is simply exquisite). “Herr und Knecht” borrows a bit of the synthy soundworld of “Fly Like an Eagle”, while “Cogs in Cogs” foregrounds Becca Stevens’ dazzlingly rhythmic lead vocal and finishes with a solo synthesiser “Double Fugue” like something from a pipe organ in a church far in the future.

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