Scheme for Thought

Elan Mehler Quartet

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“An introspective beauty, this is the record I’ve been dying to release for years.”

– Gilles Peterson

Carl Honoré may have written the manifesto for a lackadaisical lifestyle, in his essential read for frenetic stressheads everywhere ‘In Praise Of Slow’. But New York jazz pianist Elan Mehler has created its perfect soundtrack. Since the days of Art Tatum’s Chopin-on-speed keyboard gymnastics, both classical and jazz piano players have used and abused the instrument’s quicksilver surface for manly displays of technique. Not so for Mehler.

Released on Gilles Peterson’s burgeoning Brownswood label, Mehler’s debut ‘Scheme For Thought’ is chilled jazz that doesn’t require you turn into a skunk-smoking twat to actually feel its relaxational properties. Miraculously, Mehler also avoids the ear-bleeding blandness of smooth jazz, focusing on the shimmering organic resonances created by acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, double bass and tenor sax to form an intimate quartet. The mellow masterstroke is the absence of a drummer, or indeed any percussive sounds whatsoever. Instead hypnotic waves of interlocking chords of piano and Rhodes, softly pulsing bass and honey-toned tenor sax weave seamlessly into bonsai-sized melodic gems.

Label boss Peterson was himself entranced by the lanky Brooklynite’s slow musical alchemy when he discovered him while kicking back in a swanky Swiss hotel, when Mehler picked out the album’s title track on the lobby piano.  Filling the ‘quietly intelligent’ slot among Peterson’s twenty first-century stable of neo-jazz talent (including the bombastic Heritage Orchestra and laconic neo-soul boy José James), acid jazz this ain’t. There’s also a very un-NYC romantic melancholy bubbling under here, too, a brooding elegance that acts as an audaciously slow antidote to the perspirations of fast hard bop. Starting at the Vortex on Thursday, Mehler will appear across the city alongside his band of bassist Tod Hedrick, tenorist Andrew Zimmerman and David Moore on Fender Rhodes. Seek them out and discover a refreshingly slow answer to our trashy nanosecond pop culture.

-Mike Flynn, Time Out London