Brad Mehldau explores his prog-rock roots with new album Jacob’s Ladder

Brad Mehldau’s new album Jacob’s Ladder is inspired by scripture, spirituality and the prog rock that led to his discovery of jazz.

The pianist and composer’s latest record features Chris Thile, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Mark Guiliana, Becca Stevens, Joel Frahm and others.

Below you can watch the video for maybe as his skies are wide, which builds off an interpolation of Rush’s classic Tom Sawyer.

Mehldau says the record’s concept is built around the search for God.

“We are born close to God, and as we mature, we invariably move further and further away from Him on account of our ego. Jacob’s Ladder begins at that place closer to God with the voice of child, and then moves into the world of action,” he says. “God is always there, but in our discovery and conquest, and all the joys and sorrows they bring, we may lose sight of him. He sets a ladder before us though, like in Jacob’s dream, and we climb towards him, to find reconciliation with ourselves, to stitch up all those worldly wounds and finally heal. The record ends with my vision of heaven — once again as a child, His child, in eternal grace, in ecstasy.”

The musician also goes on to explain the album’s musical approach.

“The musical conduit on the record is prog,” he says. “Progressive rock was the music of my childhood, before I discovered jazz. It matched the fantasy and science fiction books I read from C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and others at that time, aged 10 through 12. It was my gateway to the fusion of Miles Davis, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and other groups, which in turn was the gateway to more jazz. Jazz shared with prog a broader expressive scope and larger-scale ambitions than the rock music I had known already.”

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Jacob’s Ladder follows last year’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme, which combined the classical form with jazz harmonization and featured the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

The previous year, Mehldau released Suite: April 2020, a solo piano album that he used as a way to raise money for the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund.

Here’s the full track listing for Jacob’s Ladder:

  1. maybe as his skies are wide
  2. Herr und Knecht
  3. (Entr’acte) Glam Perfume
  4. Cogs in Cogs, Pt. I: Dance
  5. Cogs in Cogs, Pt. II: Song
  6. Cogs in Cogs, Pt. III: Double Fugue
  7. Tom Sawyer
  8. Vou correndo te encontrar / Racecar
  9. Jacob’s Ladder, Pt. I: Liturgy
  10. Jacob’s Ladder, Pt. II: Song
  11. Jacob’s Ladder, Pt. III: Ladder
  12. Heaven: I. All Once — II. Life Seeker — III. Würm — IV. Epilogue: It Was a Dream But I Carry It Still

Brad Mehldau’s Jacob’s Ladder will be released March 18, 2022, via Nonesuch.