Friday, February 24, 2012

Celebrating Gershwin, Volume 1

David Paul Mesler
Celebrating Gershwin, Volume 1
Review by Wildy Haskell

David Paul Mesler has seemingly done it all. He's played for Presidents (Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43) and movie and television stars, appearing with artists such as Diane Schuur, Dr. John, Lyle Lovett, Barry Manilow, Burt Bacharach, and Bob Hope (to name a few). His music has graced films such as Battlefield Earth, Eloise At The Plaza, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants and The Grudge 2. He's even been nominated for an Emmy, while contributing to shows such as Days Of Our Lives and The Miracle Strip. In his spare time, Mesler composes original classical and jazz works, and plays 125 dates per year with his own ensemble. Mesler's style is enigmatic and iconoclastic; he owns the piano as if it was his own personal playground, and his genre-bending jazz/classical mixes are, to say the least, unconventional.

Mesler pays tribute to the works of George Gershwin with Celebrating Gershwin, Volume I, an eclectic collection of fifteen interpretations drawn from Gershwin's Broadway and Jazz compositions. The effort isn't so much about Gershwin, however, as it is a showy kibbutz of vaudevillian impression based on classic Gershwin themes. To use the word "progressive" would be an understatement, as Mesler uses a highly percussive and expansionist style full of runs and trills that often threatens to bury the beauty of Gershwin's melodies beneath a barrage of notes.
Volume I opens with "Of Thee I Sing", played in a spirited dinner music style that is expressive and artful. "I've Got A Crush On You" is likewise solid, though a bit messy. By the time Mesler digs into "It Ain't Necessarily So", it's clear that Gershwin has become an afterthought. Mesler is more focused on showing off what he can do with a piano than on communing with Gershwin over well-worn songs. There is an artfulness here that's undeniable, and Mesler's efforts may play well to progressive jazz fans, but traditionalists will be up in arms.

"I Got Rhythm" occasionally sounds like Gershwin, but frequently loses its identity in a cascade of notes. "Summertime" is of a similar ilk, and "How Long Has This Been Going On" fails beneath the weight of Mesler's heavy-handed style. Mesler gets so involved in filling up the aural space with notes that his piano fretwork often sounds messy. Things continue in a similar vein throughout much of the album, although Mesler does remind listeners what he's capable of on "The Man I Love", in a halting interpretation that turns expressive as it progresses but never loses control. You can almost hear Mesler holding back a desire to let loose on the song, and he slips once or twice, but this is by far the finest work he offers on Volume I. "Our Love Is Here To Stay" has moments that work, but Mesler can't keep himself reined in for too long, and takes liberties with a song that doesn't wear them well.

David Paul Mesler shows off significant technical chops on Celebrating Gershwin, Volume I, taking Gershwin on a progressive jazz and classical journey that sounds like slapstick dinner music. Hardcore Gershwin fans will find little to like here, as Mesler often simply uses Gershwin's melodies as an anchor for his expansive, rapid-fire improvisations. Mesler's effort will be very welcome amongst more progressive music fans, but Celebrating Gershwin, Volume I celebrates doesn't so much celebrate Gershwin as it does David Paul Mesler.

Review by Wildy Haskell
Rating:  2 Stars
(out of 5)

Wildy Haskell writes for The Independent, Indie-Music, Review You and Wildy's World.

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