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Album Review: Flow
Tobin Mueller
Cover image of the album Flow by Tobin Mueller
Tobin Mueller
2015 / Tobin Mueller
Disc 1: 63 minutes
Disc 2: 60 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Flow: The Music of J.S. Bach and Tobin Mueller is another very ambitious project from one of the most creative musical minds out there, Tobin Mueller. His first two-disc set, Disc 1 contains fifteen solo piano interpretations/arrangements of some of Bach’s best-known pieces, and Disc 2 is a set of two original suites composed to demonstrate how Bach’s music has influenced Mueller and his own music. Disc 2 also contains a bonus track, bringing that total up to thirteen piano solos. Bach is perhaps the greatest composer who ever lived and he continues to be a favorite among many jazz musicians as well as classical music aficionados. All of the music on Disc 1 is recognizable, and even though most of the interpretations have very strong jazz elements, my feeling is that Bach would strongly approve of Mueller’s creations. The CD set also contains a 16-page booklet that provides an historical perspective on Bach’s life and music as well as Mueller’s explanations of his creative processes. In addition to all of that, the artwork, also by Mueller, further provides spirited and colorful illustrations to accompany the music. It’s a beautiful package and the music provides a unique listening experience that is sometimes a bit challenging but always very enjoyable.

I always find it fascinating to hear how composers interpret classical music, giving well-known nuggets a new spin. Mueller did this exceptionally well with his previous album, Impressions of Water and Light, which was a look at Claude Debussy and other composers of the Impressionist period. Flow is a brilliant second part to a promised three-part series which will include the music of Chopin in the future. I love that Mueller ignored all boundaries for musical genres in this music, juxtaposing modal jazz, blues, Broadway, prog rock, and new age (and others) with classical stylings, giving free reign to his vast experience and training along with an imagination that knows no limitations.

My favorites on Disc 1 include “Reinvention No. 13,” a playful a take on Bach’s Two-Part Invention #13; “Double Fantasia and Fugue in Gm,” a dark bluesy arrangement that feels just right; “In Anna Magdalena’s Hands (Cello Suite #1, Prelude),” a beautiful tribute to Bach’s second wife who transcribed much of his music; “Leopold’s Short Life: A Prelude and Fugue,” based on Prelude and Fugue #2 in C Minor, arranged as a Big Band piece that has a real swing; “Bach on Vaudeville (Two-Part Invention #8 in F), again very playful and full of fun; and “Air,” based on “Air on the G String,” a slow, pensive interpretation arranged in a set of variations that incorporate a number of jazz styles.

Disc 2 contains two 6-part suites - “Suite: Flow” and “New England Suite” - as well as the bonus track from Mueller’s 1996 musical, Creature. It doesn’t seem likely that a listener stumbling upon any of these pieces would hear an immediate connection to Bach’s music, but Mueller explains in the liner notes (also available on his site) which ideas he was exploring as he composed this music. Much more jazz-oriented than classical, the rich, complex harmonies and inventive rhythms go in a lot of unexpected directions that keep the music consistently interesting as well as fun to listen to. I especially like “Tide Pools,” “Bird in Migration,” “Lighthouse,” and “Train (Summer Tango).” The bonus track, “One Body of Man, a duet” was recorded live in 1998 and is a series of variations on a theme from Mueller’s off-Broadway musical, Creature, which is based on the Frankenstein story. Upbeat straight-ahead jazz, the piece really rocks and closes this impressive album with a great big grin.

All of Tobin Mueller’s albums are very different from each other, so if you are not familiar with his music or have only heard one album, check this one out! If you have his entire collection, this one will not duplicate anything previously recorded! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended for a one-of-a-kind listening experience!
May 12, 2015
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Kathy's Favorites: 2015