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Album Review: Standard Deviations
Tobin Mueller
Cover image of the album Standard Deviations by Tobin Mueller
Standard Deviations
Tobin Mueller
2018 / Tobin Mueller
122 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
You’d think that after reviewing eighteen albums by an artist, a reviewer would have a pretty good idea of what to expect when getting new music from that artist. Well, when it comes to new music from Tobin Mueller, that is never the case. Over the past fifteen years or so, Mueller has released such a varied collection of albums that any new releases are always a fascinating surprise. Last year’s Afterwords paired quotations from some of Mueller’s favorite authors with original solo piano compositions. Before that was the Masterworks Trilogy, where Mueller chose works from various Impressionist composers (Impressions of Water and Light), JS Bach (Flow) and Chopin (Of Two Minds) and gave their music his own unique interpretations. Great stuff, all of it! Calling it a possible extension of the Masterworks Trilogy, Standard Deviations pays homage to thirty-three of the great jazz standards of the 20th century. A two-disc set, the pieces are presented singly and as medleys. Some are solo piano and some are ensemble arrangements that include guitars (Paul Nelson and Pay Wayland), sax (Woody Mankowski) and percussion (Mike Nappi and Lamar Moore) as well as Mueller on acoustic piano, vintage electric pianos, organ, synths and Trilogy bass. Kenny Cash produced and added additional bass. Disc 1 is dedicated to Mueller’s father and contains ten tracks that are mostly up-tempo ensemble pieces (his dad’s favorites!), and Disc 2 is dedicated to his mom and features fourteen somewhat quieter ballads and more solo piano.

Volume 1 begins with an unusual pairing of “God Bless the Child” and “What a Wonderful World.” A duet with sax master Woody Mankowski, Mueller plays pianos, organ, synths, bass and percussion on this one. The melody of “God Bless the Child” weaves in and out of the funk-fusion improvisations, and then Mueller introduces a beautiful solo piano arrangement of “What a Wonderful World” before returning to a “cooler” but more uptempo closing. I was surprised to see “Eleanor Rigby” included in a jazz standards collection, but it fits perfectly in this context. Actually, I’m not sure I would have recognized the Beatles’ classic without the liner notes, but the spirit of the song is certainly there, performed on sax, conga, drums, bass, pianos and synths. “Moanin’/Blue Monk” features some smokin’ hot guitar, piano, and bass work! “After Hours/ Monk’s Point” again pairs Mueller (piano and organ) and Mankowski, this time in a great blues performance and my favorite in Volume 1. Other titles include “St. Louis Blues,” “Take Five” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

Volume 2 opens with “Autumn Leaves,” a solo piano arrangement that was influenced by Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” “Stardust” begins with a bouncy synth intro that becomes a catchy rhythm throughout the piece. Mueller layers in pianos, bass and percussion and Mankowski works his sax magic. “Am I Blue/ Summertime” is a layered solo piece for pianos and synths. “Summertime,” probably my favorite jazz standard, is often very dark, but this version is more lighthearted as if viewed through the eyes of a child. The medley of “Moon River” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is dreamy and magical and is performed as a slow piano solo with various electronic effects - I really like this one! Mueller’s solo piano “Georgia On My Mind” is unlike any of the versions I’ve heard. Wistful and soulful with an easy-going rhythm, I really like this one, too! “Secret Love” is a bittersweet piano solo that expresses so much without a single word. “Rhythm Medley” is a fun and energetic mix of “”It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “I Got Rhythm.” My favorite on Volume 2 is the solo piano medley of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “People.” Overflowing with feelings of melancholy and longing, this one grabs me every time.

Standard Deviations is another musical masterpiece from Tobin Mueller and crew! In addition to extensive liner notes, Mueller has posted alternate takes of many of these pieces and clips from other influential recordings on www.TobinMueller.com/standard. The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.
September 23, 2018
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