Monday, February 27, 2012

The Blue Diary

David Paul Mesler
The Blue Diary
Review by Matthew Warnock

When thinking of improvised music, one normally conjures up images of jazz musicians on stage, weaving melodic lines through harmonic changes with the nimbleness of a gymnast and the intellectual fortitude of a mathematician.  But, there is a long lineage of classically trained and influenced musicians who have also made their mark within the genre of improvised music.  Artists such as Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans come to mind as two pianists who blurred the lines between jazz and classical, often spontaneously composing pieces that could easily fall into the realm of classical or jazz music depending on one’s viewpoint and predetermined notions of the context in which it was presented.  Seattle based pianist David Paul Mesler is another pianist who blurs the lines between the jazz and classical idioms during the 17 improvised tracks on his album The Blue Diary, with the end result being a highly personalized and entertaining addition to the solo piano library.

Kicking off the album with the barn-burning, dissonant piece “Said What?,” Mesler showcases the classical side of his playing, as well as his professionally tuned chops and control of the piano in any register or at any dynamic.  Beginning with a series of Impressionist-influenced chords, Mesler then brings in a dark, rapid-fire single-line melody that grows from the lowest register of the instrument and climbs its way back into the chords in the middle and upper registers.  Not only is this a very effective compositional, or in this case improvisational, device that blends two timbres and textures on the instrument, it is also a demonstration of the precise control that Mesler has under his fingers and in his ears as he reaches into his creative self to derive new and interesting melodic ideas.

Jumping from the classical genre to the world of jazz improvisation, Mesler leads the listener into his alter-ego with the piece “And So it Begins,” which starts in a similar fashion as the previous piece, with a series of chord voicings, before branching off into a jazz-influenced feel with an accompanying melody and harmony line as well.  Using bluesy phrases, as well as extreme registers, Mesler is able to bring a bit of Mingus soul into this piece, without it becoming a parody or imitation of the legendary bassist and composer.  There is just enough tradition in this piece to create a sense of belonging, while at the same time it is distinctly Mesler as his artistic voice is woven into each chord, line and phrase. 

One of the most unique and interesting pieces on the record is “In the Act.”  The genesis of the work is a low-register, repeated single-note that acts as a thread throughout the piece, keeping a storyline running from start to finish.  In between are single-note runs that lead the listener from the opening phrase to the final note, bringing them into exciting and unexpected musical territory along the way.  At one point, Mesler lays out a series of chords that, because of the change of texture, grab the listener’s ears and attention, providing a captivating moment in one of the album’s most interesting pieces.

Blurring the line between genres can have either positive or negative consequences.  Sometimes an artist finds a pushback from audiences when they make a crossover album, while other times the new musical scenery can be extremely refreshing for listeners and musicians both.  In the case of Mesler, his ability to move between jazz and classical styles in his improvisations provides extra layers of interest and creativity in his music that helps lift this album above the fold and places it among some of the best in the genre.
Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating:  5 Stars (out of 5)

Matthew Warnock writes for All About Jazz, Guitar International Magazine, Hal Leonard, Mel Bay, Modern Guitar Magazine and Review You.

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