Day is Done marks the debut of new trio member Jeff Ballard on drums, joining Mehldau on piano and Larry Grenadier on bass. “After ten very rewarding years with Jorge Rossy, I’m really pleased Jeff has decided to play with me,” Mehldau says. “Jeff is an all around musician, but he’s also a real drummer’s drummer. He’s absorbed a lot of rhythms from different parts of the world that are fresh to my ears. Jeff also has a real refined ear and sensitivity to his approach in the trio setting that comes from years of experience as a sideman. He’s able to bring something completely new to the table on any given tune that we’re playing, yet he finds a way to blend his ideas with my existing musical identity at the same time. Already, Jeff’s been inspiring me in my own approach as I play with him.”
Day is Done begins with Radiohead’s “Knives Out”. Mehldau explains, “This is one that we had never played together and it was a first take in the studio. It had a wild energy about it, yet I felt there was a real focus to the performance between the three of us. It’s always exciting when something clicks spontaneously like that in the studio. I liked the idea of opening the record on a very high energy level like we did with this track. I’ve hesitated to do that in the past, favoring more of a slow build up. What makes it work here, I think, is that the rest of the material is varied enough, and there are also several other really high energy numbers, like ‘Artis’, ‘Day is Done’ or ‘50 Ways’. In comparison to some of my other trio records, this one is pretty high-octane, with a few moments of respite here and there. We gave a lot of thought to the sequencing to try to give the listener a chance to come up for air.”
Mehldau explains that several first takes wound up on the record. “With the exception of the one solo piano track, ‘Martha My Dear’, the music was recorded in one day, over an exhilarating six or seven hour period where we paused only a couple of times for a quick bite and coffee. Day is Done seemed like a good double-entendre for a title. It refers to the title track, but also to the fact that the record was more or less done in a day.” The song “Day is Done” is from Nick Drake’s classic first release, Five Leaves Left, which also includes “River Man”, a tune that has been in Mehldau’s book for a number of years. “I’ve wanted to do something with ‘Day is Done’ for a while,” Mehldau says. “I gave the initial statement of Drake’s haunting melody to Larry, and then he takes the first solo. This is something I’ve done a few times before, like on our arrangement of ‘Smile’ from Anything Goes, or my own ‘Song-Song’ from Art of The Trio, Vol. 3. He has a way of playing melodies with such clarity that it almost borders on deliberate, but there’s always an earthy thing that comes from his beautiful tone and the funky rhythmic quality to what he plays. I’m always latching onto that when I play with him. You can hear that funky earthiness not just on Larry’s solos, but also when he plays in the rhythm section, like on the long tag that ends ‘50 Ways’. There are several modulations of key throughout ‘Day is Done’: from Larry’s solo to my entrance, from the end of my solo to Jeff’s solo feature. The idea of the arrangement was to have it continually building and shifting, but always with an eye on the initial strong melody of Drake’s as a jumping-off point.”
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