By Michael J. West | Published October 2020
Locked down in the Netherlands, pianist Brad Mehldau decided to compose a 12-part cycle that reflects his response to our new normal. Even with 12 movements, Suite: April 2020 is still quite short; its longest piece, the bittersweet “V. remembering before all this,” is less than four minutes. Don’t come looking for Mehldau’s long, lustrous improvisations—or even short ones, though there might be some light embellishments here and there. This is a composer’s work.
If its bite-size pieces are easily digestible, so are its penetrating melodies. Like the thinned-out harmonies, they emphasize the isolation at the heart of both the work and the context. Well, that and the pure strangeness. “II. stepping outside” combines playful rhythms with disoriented spaces and dissonances. There’s great urgency in “VI. uncertainty,” but no emotional resolution. Even the promisingly titled “XI. family harmony” has troubled undertones. It’s only the Bach-like “XII. lullaby” that offers any real comfort. (This includes the three covers closing the album: Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is fraught with tension, while Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind” and Jerome Kern’s “Look For The Silver Lining” find new reservoirs of heartbreak.)
The album’s biggest question mark: Will the angst and unease chronicled on Suite: April 2020—music that literally is dated—still be listenable in the future? Is it a time capsule too painful to revisit, and will generations yet unborn be able to relate? Nobody can say.
It is universally and profoundly resonant in the moment, however, and perhaps that’s all we need from it.
Suite: April 2020: I. waking up; II. stepping outside; III. keeping distance; IV. stopping, listening: hearing; V. remembering before all this; VI. uncertainty; VII. —the day moves by—; VIII. yearning; IX. waiting; X. in the kitchen; XI. family harmony; XII. lullaby; Don’t Let It Bring You Down; New York State Of Mind; Look For The Silver Lining. (40:21)
Personnel: Brad Mehldau, piano.