Pianist Brad Mehldau grew up on rock, studied classical music, and obviously loves them both. But more important, he finds ways to fold this music gracefully into his own, and it's all the better for it. Whether playing solo or in the company of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy, Mehldau generates ecstatic, passionate music that sits squarely within the jazz tradition -- despite the fact that he often and easily integrates music as wide-ranging as modern rock and classical. It would not be surprising for anyone familiar with Mehldau's music to discern a moody Brahmsian chord progression or contrapuntal line seamlessly woven into a long improvisation or roaring standard. Mehldau has also found much to admire in the music of Nick Drake and Radiohead, among others, and his renditions of their often elegiac songs manage to preserve the melody and the songform structure while at the same time allowing for Mehldau's bristling improvisation. Filtered through Mehldau's improvisational methods, Thom Yorke and Beethoven sound almost like contemporaries. (For the unconvinced, reference Mehldau's Art of the Trio, Volumes 3 and 4.) Continuing a string of superlative albums for Warner Bros., last year's Places finds Mehldau splitting time between solo and trio format on a series of harmonically interrelated tunes inspired by and written in cities around the world. The album features all Mehldau original compositions, which, like his covers and standards, still reflect Mehldau's dark romantic leanings, wide-ranging tastes, and prodigious musical intelligence that molds it all into a kinetic, cohesive whole.