Monday, February 27, 2012

The Dream Journal Murders

David Paul Mesler
The Dream Journal Murders
Review by Matthew Warnock

Describing himself as a “free improvisation pianist,” Seattle based David Paul Mesler lives up to his title with the release of his record The Dream Journal Murders.  The album, being a collection of 28 freely improvised pieces, may not be exactly what one would think of as a free-jazz or freely improvised collection of music.  Yes there are moments of dissonance, and Mesler is much more aggressive on this album melodically and harmonically speaking than he is on some of his other improvised records, but there is an inherent beauty to each track on the album that sounds more like a collection of openly composed pieces rather than 28 works that were created on the spot in the studio. 

Because of the strong rhythmic component and sense of continuity between the pieces, the album comes off more like a series of short vignettes telling a larger story than it does separate works on a record.  For instance, there are short pauses between each track, usually for a second or two to clear the listener’s palette. But, Mesler constructs each piece in a manner that while it may not be intentionally related to the previous and next track on the recording, one gets that sense when listening to the album front to back.  This strong sense of continuity helps keep the music flowing from one track to the next as well as keeps the listener’s attention glued to each short piece as it flows by.  The tracks are usually a little over two minutes in length with one being over six minutes. 

The short length of the pieces also acts to give the listener a break every few minutes from the intensity of the music that Mesler is improvising, which for some listener’s might become overwhelming if he had recorded longer pieces instead of the shorter ones on the album. Improvised music is sometimes hard for listener’s to get used to, especially if they are new to the genre or are unfamiliar with jazz or modern classical music, but Mesler’s program on this record, his attention to the length of each piece, his choice to quasi-connect one piece to the next, comes together to provide for an entertaining session for any seasoned listener, as well as a nice introduction to newcomers to the genre.

Though he has been known to use blocks of chords and long harmonic progressions, especially on his other fully improvised records, Mesler has chosen to focus more attention on single-lines on this record.  Though he plays more single lines than in previous outings, he does so in a way that implies harmonic movement by way of arpeggiation and overlapping.  There are moments when lines are weaving in and out of each other, crisscrossing in such a way as to imply a larger timbre than just a series of single-line phrases.  This type of performance is never easy to pull off, especially in a fully improvised setting, but Mesler’s mature musicianship and strong ears guide him through these sections, leading his listener’s along with him as he navigates difficult musical territory with what seems like the greatest of ease.

David Paul Mesler is a pianist of the highest stature.  Not only does he have the fortitude to embark on a solo, fully improvised recording session, but he delivers a performance that is truly spectacular.  Fans of the genre will no doubt find this album appealing, while at the same time it is a welcome initiation to the world of freely improvised music for those who have just taken the leap and are exploring the genre for the first time.

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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