You only live a day and it's brilliant anyway

Chris Thile is an extraordinarily talented bluegrass musician, mandolinist, a Macarthur Fellow, and the man who stepped into Garrison Keillor's very large shoes when Keillor retired from A Prairie Home Companion.  Brad Mehldau is pretty much the state of the art in contemporary jazz piano.

Here they are teaming up to play their arrangement of one of the most beautiful piece of pop music written in the last 25 years, Elliott Smith's "Independence Day."

If you're not familiar with "Independence Day," (or, even more sadly, you're not familiar with XO, or even Elliott Smith), you can hear it here:  

Its chorus has a remarkable melody line, bouncy, cheerful, and poppy on the surface, but with a downward movement and some darker harmonizations that suggest that not all is quite as well as it sounds.  Its verse keeps ascending, but it keeps backing off from resolving the way you expect it to.  Despite all its complexity (and the melody is far more complicated than most melodies in pop music) and moodiness it's also an insanely catchy song, and its harmonies, especially the vocal harmonies, are haunting.

It's one of the best things that Smith, a guy who had as much musical talent as any three Beatles, ever wrote.  

Mehldau's been performing it live for 15 years but never recorded it until his collaboration with Thile.  A pop song is a good choice for two musicians similar only in talent:  it gives them a solidly established common ground to riff on, and a structure that naturally lends itself to trading off the lead and accompanist roles.  This pop song has the benefit of intricate melodies and unusual harmonies, which both performers use as a jumping-off point for their respective interpretations.

If you like this, track down the recordings Mehldau made with his trio of Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)" and his solo performance of Jeff Buckley's "Dream Brother."  They're amazing.


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