Friday, February 24, 2012

In Spiritu I

David Paul Mesler
In Spiritu I
Review by Alex Henderson

David Paul Mesler has performed as both a singer and an instrumentalist, but the Seattle resident favored an entirely instrumental format on his three-album trilogy In Spiritu.  Mesler self-released the three In Spiritu albums (In Spiritu I, In Spiritu II and In Spiritu III) on his own label, Emerald City Records, in 2007, and on all three of them, he led the same cohesive post-bop jazz trio: Mesler on acoustic piano, Doug Miller on upright bass and Brian Kirk on drums.  Stylistically, there are no major differences between the three albums; on all three, the main ingredient is post-bop jazz.  There are influences other than jazz on Mesler’s trilogy, including European classical music and Christian music (both European church music and African-American spirituals).  But essentially, Mesler’s trilogy is post-bop jazz.

Mesler has described In Spiritu I as “free improvisation,” but the material isn’t the type of scorching free jazz one might associate with an avant-garde firebrand such as saxophonist Charles Gayle; In Spiritu I isn’t nearly that left-of-center.  Actually, Mesler doesn’t get into outside playing at all on this album; he occasionally detours into inside/outside playing on In Spiritu II and In Spiritu III (both of which are post-bop-oriented albums nonetheless), but he sticks to inside playing on In Spiritu I.  And in fact, the material on this release is quite melodic.  Mesler’s pianism is free-spirited in the sense that he is consistently improvisation-minded, but he is a lyrical soloist; brutal atonality isn’t the scenario at all on this CD.

Some of the pieces that appear on In Spiritu I also appear on one or both of the other In Spiritu albums.  The moody “Kyrie Eleison” (which is performed on this album three times) is also performed once on In Spiritu II and once on In Spiritu III, while the passionate “Gloria” is also performed on In Spiritu III.  And the reflective “Hosanna Filio David” is also performed on In Spiritu II.  However, the insistent “Alleluia: Beatus Vir Qui Suffert” (which Mesler performs twice on this album), the dreamy “Inviolata” and the intriguing “Puer Natus Est Nobis” are the selections that are unique to In Spiritu I and don’t appear on either of the other two In Spiritu CDs. 

So why does Mesler perform some of these pieces more than once?  Why is “Kyrie Eleison” performed no less than five times between the three albums?  It comes down to the fact that Mesler is very much an improviser.  Improvisation, of course, is the essence of jazz; everyone from King Oliver to Pat Metheny to Fats Navarro has had the mentality of an improviser, and that improviser’s mentality is very much at work on In Spiritu I and its two companions.  One doesn’t mind hearing “Kyrie Eleison” or “Alleluia: Beatus Vir Qui Suffert” more than once on In Spiritu I because every time he performs one of those pieces, the improvisations are different.  Instead of becoming redundant or predictable, Mesler keeps the material fresh and interesting.  

But that is not to say that Mesler’s approach is haphazard or that he is aimlessly throwing things against the wall and hoping that perhaps some of them might stick.  Instead, Mesler’s improvisations have a sense of purpose; Mesler thrives on spontaneity throughout his In Spiritu albums, but he sounds like he went into the studio with a definite game plan.  And the material works enjoyably well; on In Spiritu I, Mesler demonstrates that there is no reason why acoustic post-bop jazz should not be influenced by European classical music, European church music or African-American spirituals. In Spiritu I is far-reaching, but it doesn’t overreach; Mesler’s experimentation never sounds forced or unnatural.

In Spiritu I, like its two companions, is a creative success for David Paul Mesler.

Review by Alex Henderson
Rating:  4 stars (out of 5)

Alex Henderson writes for All Music Guide, Billboard, CD Review, Creem, HITS, Jazz Times, Jazziz, The L.A. Weekly, Review You and Spin.

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