Brad Mehldau

Jacob’s Ladder

There is a lot happening on Jacob’s Ladder — almost too much. As Brad Mehldau channels music of his youth — the extravagance of ’70s prog rock and the pyrotechnics of fusion — he underscores the album with soul-stirring Biblical themes.

The book of Genesis story about Jacob’s dream of a ladder leading up to heaven during a flight from his brother Esau provides the inspirational thrust for the album. The music unfolds in a programmatic manner that suggests a gaudy glam-rock opera. It depicts the protagonist’s close association with God during his childhood and how his Christian faith loosens during adulthood, only for it to be restored through experiencing some of life’s hard knocks then envisioning the ladder as the pathway back to God’s grace.

Jacob’s Ladder contains two three-part suites. The first is “Cogs In Cogs,” on which Mehldau extrapolates upon Gentle Giant’s tune of the same name from its 1974 LP The Power And The Glory. Here, Mehldau uses the song’s baroque-like melody and intricate meter as improvisational fodder as he molds it into a kaleidoscopic suite that infuses gentle jazztronica, haunting art-rock singing and modern chamber music shading. The other one is “Jacob’s Ladder,” which begins with an eerie collage of recitations from the book of Genesis about Jacob’s venture from Beer-sheba to Haran, when he eventually dreams of the ladder. After its opening, “Liturgy,” the suite progresses into an epic composition marked by suspenseful chords.