Impressions of Water and Light
2014 / Tobin Mueller
Review by Kathy Parsons
A week ago, I was writing a review of Tobin Mueller’s hard-driving Come In Funky collaboration with Ron Carter and Woody Mankowski. Today I’m writing about Impressions of Water and Light, Mueller’s jazz interpretations of the music of his favorite Impressionist composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have mentioned before that Mueller is an artist who never fails to surprise - a true original - and that is certainly true of this album. Mueller isn’t the first musician to give classical music a jazz makeover, but he sought (and succeeded) to forge a balance between Impressionism and jazz in what he calls a “Neo-Classical post-Impressionist Pastoral Jazz hybrid.” Love it! Classical purists may find some of this music a bit jarring, but those who appreciate a fresh take on (mostly) familiar classics will be fascinated by Mueller’s exploration of the “intimacies” between jazz and Impressionism. The harmonies and discordances as well as the freer rhythms of Impressionist music were certainly a precursor to jazz and, in a way, Mueller is taking that early evolution several steps farther. Some of the pieces are arrangements of the originals while others are new songs that quote passages from the originals; a few are in a theme and variations format. The CD contains a gorgeous 12-page booklet that includes Mueller’s thoughts and intentions along with an Impressionist painting to illustrate each piece. (These notes and illustrative paintings are also available on Mueller’s website.) It’s a very beautiful package!
Eight of the thirteen tracks are based on music by Debussy, two by Ravel, and one each by Faure, Carpenter, Ibert, and Satie (which also refers to Debussy). The first is based on “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair,” #8 of Debussy’s Preludes. Flowing and delicate with a jazzy edge, it’s a beautiful beginning. Next is an expressive take on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” retitled “Leur chanson se mele au clair de lune (Their song mingles with the moonlight).” Some of the passages are played close to the original and others are given a new “impression” that is still recognizable. “Dance for a Princess Gone” is based on Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunte.” Dark, mournful and very poignant, Mueller obviously has a strong personal connection to this piece. When I first started studying ragtime piano, I was surprised at how often Debussy was mentioned, and Mueller shows why with his interpretations of “Le Petit Negre” and “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.” In “The Petit Negre,” Mueller goes beyond ragtime and includes a boogie woogie section based on riffs used in Debussy’s original music. In “Golliwog is Steppin’ Out,” his playful side emerges with lighthearted left hand syncopation and a swinging melody - definitely a favorite! Debussy’s “Reverie” is played close to the original - dreamy and gently flowing. “Blue Prelude,” again based on a Debussy Prelude (#4), goes very dark and dramatic with some fascinating left hand passages in the deep bass of the piano. Faure’s “Pavane” is another favorite with the lyrical melody given a series of variations including Faure’s original piano version quoted in the final verse. Mueller closes with “Sitting with Satie: Conversation & Life,” a medley of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies” and “Gnossienne,” Debussy’s 6th Prelude, and Mueller’s own music. Mueller uses extra reverb to give the piece a sense of space and openness in homage to Satie. It’s a fascinating piece and a great way to end this exceptional album.
Samples of the music on Impressions of Light and Water are available at Tobin Mueller’s website. The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
June 15, 2014
with Woody Mankowski