February 2014

"Taming the Dragon" - Mehliana's Debut Album

After several recent tours around the U.S. and Europe, the musical duo of keyboardist Brad Mehldau and drummer Mark Guiliana, aka "Mehliana", have at long last released and album of their improvisational and inspiring music. Their debut effort is entitled, "Taming the Dragon", a collection of some of their best forays that will be familiar to fans of their live shows, as well as some material not heard or seen live. Mehliana's use of vintage synthesizers, and their incredible grasp of both jazz and modern electronica is a joy to witness live, (They performed at both SF Jazz and the Independant recently); happily, their new album captures those moments and more.

Released on the Nonesuch Record label, Taming the Dragon's origins were revealed, "Mehldau and Guiliana have been performing for several years, with Mehldau playing Fender Rhodes and synthesizers and Guiliana on drums and effects, as they are on the record. Mehliana comprises 12 original tunes—six written by the duo and six written by Mehldau—and was engineered and mixed by Greg Koller (Jon Brion, Kanye West). The vinyl edition of the album, due March 18, includes two 140-gram LPs pressed at Pallas MFG in Diepholz, Germany, and a CD of the album."

The reviews so far have been favorable
: "Mehliana: Taming the Dragon is "astonishing," exclaims Jazzwise magazine, "one of the best albums of 2014." Mehliana earned four stars from the Guardian and from MusicOMH, which calls the album "wholly absorbing, as Mehldau’s playfulness and Guiliana’s taut, interwoven grooves create an inescapable tension. Pieces such as the delightful, slow building 'Hungry Ghost even seem to draw from the approaches of post rock acts such as Sigur Rós or Tortoise." The album, concludesMusicOMH reviewer Daniel Paton, offers "an intuitive, compelling dialogue between the two musicians, and between the musicians and their machines..." "Ranging from lush dreamscapes to febrile urban funk workouts," says MOJO, "the album resonates like an imaginary '80s film score..."

Having seen and heard Mehliana both live and online, I was extremely pleased to see some of my favorite pieces from those live performances appear on the album; the haunting "Elegy for Amelia Earhardt"; "London Gloaming", (Mehldau would often quote John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" live on this tune); the rollicking "Sassyassed Sassafrass", "Just call me Nige", and "Sleeping Giant"; "Swimming", a great tune where Guiliana is in his percussive element; and perhaps my favorite, "Hungry Ghost", a beautifully eerie vamp that both grooves you and rattles your chains. Those tunes were incredible live and sound simply fantastic on this recording.

There are other interesting tunes on the album as well; "Taming the Dragon", the spoken word piece title piece, conjured memories of Adrian Belew's dialogue in King Crimson's "Thela Hun Jingeet"; and "Luxe", a pierce borne from an improvisational idea right before their performance in Luxenbourg.

I have been a huge fan of the great keyboard and drum duo's; from the world music of the late, great Joe Zawinul and Trilok Gurtu; Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford, (who incidentally considered Guiliana one of the most refreshing drummers he'd heard in years); and Marco Benevento and Joe Russo's "Duo". Mehliana is the real deal, and "Taming the Dragon" is a worthy addition to the pantheon of those previous men.