David Paul Mesler
In Spiritu III
Review by Alex Henderson
Joined by Doug Miller on upright bass and Brian Kirk on drums, Seattle-based acoustic pianist David Paul Mesler concluded his instrumental In Spiritu trilogy with In Spiritu III (which he self-released on his own indie label, Emerald City Records). In Spiritu III, like its two predecessors, is best described as an acoustic post-bop album with a consistently spiritual outlook. And once again, that spirituality comes from different places; European church music is an influence, but so is African-American church music. European classical music was an influence on the two previous In Spiritu CDs, and it is an influence on In Spiritu III as well.
Occasionally, In Spiritu III ventures into mildly avant-garde territory, mildly being the operative word; this is far from an album of vicious free jazz atonality. But Mesler does make some Cecil Taylor-ish moves on the dramatic, Middle Eastern-flavored “Mystic Dance” and the passionate “Gloria.” Those two pieces favor an inside/outside approach on this album; Mesler plays discernible post-bop melodies but detours into some Taylor-ish outside playing during his improvisations. However, that is quite different from what Taylor and the pianists he has influenced (Marilyn Crispell, for example) are known for doing. The iconoclastic Taylor is radically avant-garde rather than mildly avant-garde; he is a free jazz agitator who makes outside playing his main focus, whereas “Mystic Dance” and “Gloria” are more inside than outside. Outside playing is an occasional side dish on In Spiritu III, not the main course. And most of the selections on this 2007 release aren’t avant-garde at all. Again, this is essentially a post-bop album; the material is melodic, and Mesler’s acoustic pianism is relatively accessible. Most of the time, Mesler’s piano playing on In Spiritu III is closer to Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock or Ahmad Jamal than it is to Cecil Taylor or Marilyn Crispell.
In Spiritu III opens and closes with “Shenandoah,” which has a good-natured, hopeful outlook; the opening version is the longer of the two. Mesler is equally good-natured on “Occuli Omnium.” But this is a diverse album, and a variety of material can be found on In Spiritu III. The moody “Kyrie Eleison,” for example, doesn’t sound anything at all like “Shenandoah” or “Occuli Omnium.” On this version of “Kyrie Eleison,” Mesler becomes mildly funky but not in a typical soul-jazz fashion; he maintains the tune’s essential moodiness. His outlook is also moody on the two-minute “Statuit Dominus.”
“City of Heaven,” meanwhile, has a slightly Horace Silver-ish perspective. And Mesler’s approach is pensive and contemplative on “Wide, Deep, Troubled Water,” which is perhaps the track that owes the most to African-American spirituals.
The Middle Eastern influence that one finds on “Mystic Dance” fits right in with the album’s spiritual leanings, and it does so in a way that brings to mind religions other than Christianity. If any religion has influenced In Spiritu III more than others, it is Christianity; European church music (Catholic as well as Protestant) and African-American spirituals are both part of Christianity, and both of them are influences on In Spiritu III. But when one thinks of the Middle East in the 21st Century, the religion that mainly comes to mind is Islam (Judaism in Israel). So with “Mystic Dance,” Mesler maintains the album’s spiritual leanings but does so in a way that brings to mind the spiritual music of Islam and Judaism more than the spiritual music of Christianity. And when Mesler makes those Taylor-ish moves on “Mystic Dance,” it doesn’t sound like outside playing for the sake of outside playing; it fits in perfectly with the Middle Eastern flavor that Mesler is going for.
With In Spiritu III, Mesler brought his trilogy to a consistently rewarding conclusion.
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.