You wouldn’t know it from listening to Day is Done â€” or a lot of Mehldau’s other stuff â€” but it really is possible to retain the gee-whiz factor, almost inherent in serious jazz reworkings of modern pop classics, without completely robbing the songs of their simple melodic pleasures. Mehldau does his critically beloved thing here, covering stuff like “Knives Out” (download), “Martha My Dear,” “Alfie,” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (download), often transmogrifying the songs beyond immediate recognition (a good thing) and never using fewer than ten notes when one will do (a bad thing).
The result is a pretty slippery listening experience, particularly for an album that relies so heavily on pop material for its base. It’s an informative set for musicians, I guess, but for the most part, this will be entertaining mainly for the sort of people who enjoy playing unrecognizable versions of songs their friends like, waiting for the inevitable “This sucks, change it,” and then busting out with “Ha! That’s a Radiohead song, man! What kind of fan are you, anyway? Ha ha ha!”
Like I said, it doesn’t have to be this way. For a great example of how a jazz take on pop gems can be smart and interesting, listen to Bill Frisell’s Have a Little Faith, and start with his take on Madonna’s “Live to Tell” (download).