Friday, February 24, 2012

In Spiritu II

David Paul Mesler
In Spiritu II
Review by Alex Henderson

Seattle-based acoustic pianist David Paul Mesler’s self-produced In Spiritu trilogy has been described as “free improvisation” and “daredevil jazz,” which might lead some jazz enthusiasts to believe that he is doing something radically avant-garde with the three albums.  Indeed, a term like “daredevil jazz” could easily cause one to think that the pianism on the three In Spiritu albums is abrasive, blistering free jazz pianism of the Cecil Taylor/Marilyn Crispell variety and that Mesler is hell-belt for atonality.  But in fact, most of In Spiritu II isn’t avant-garde at all.  Far from an exercise in nonstop atonality, In Spiritu is most easily described as a post-bop album that occasionally ventures into outside playing but is generally melodic, relatively accessible and characterized by lyrical playing from Mesler. 

The same musicians who form an acoustic piano trio with Mesler on In Spiritu I and In Spiritu III form an acoustic piano trio with him on In Spiritu II; he is joined by Doug Miller on upright bass and Brian Kirk on drums.  Miller plucks his bass on most of the material, but he also plays with a bow at times.  And when Miller plays with a bow and solos, he is lyrical and melodic (much like Mesler).  Miller and Kirk are both assets on this 42-minute CD.

Saying that In Spiritu II is essentially a post-bop album rather than an album of blistering free jazz is not to say that it isn’t ambitious or risk-taking.  Mesler is definitely ambitious and risk-taking on In Spiritu II, drawing on European classical music as well as different types of spiritual music (including European church music and African-American spirituals).  And while Mesler’s playing, for the most part, has more in common with Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock than it does with Cecil Taylor, that doesn’t mean that Taylor isn’t an influence at times.  “Antiphon,” for example, is an inside/outside offering that isn’t as intense or in-your-face as something Taylor would do but does include some Taylor-influenced improvising.  There are two versions of “Antiphon” on this 2007 release, and both of them draw on both the inside and the outside.

But much of In Spiritu II is strictly inside, and Mesler’s mood is calm and reflective on “By the River,” “Hosanna Filio David,” “Pacem Meam Do Vobis” (which is performed twice) and “Da Pacem, Domine”  (which is heard in a six-minute version as well as a shorter version that is under three minutes).  None of those pieces are the least bit abrasive, the least bit confrontational or the least bit avant-garde; all of them show us how lyrical a pianist Mesler can be.

Some of the songs that appear on In Spiritu III also appear on this album, including the Middle Eastern-influenced “Mystic Dance” and the moody “Kyrie Eleison.”  The version of “Mystic Dance” that appears on In Spiritu II is shorter than the version on In Spiritu III; this version only lasts two minutes, whereas the version on In Spiritu III lasts more than six and one-half minutes.  But that isn’t to say that the version on In Spiritu II isn’t effective; this version, although shorter, still gets its points across emotionally.

When one sees song titles like “Pacem Meam Do Vobis,” “Do Pacem, Domine” and “Statuit Dominus,” one thinks of Christian musical traditions in Europe.  And again, European spiritual music is an important influence on this album.   But despite having all those different influences, In Spiritu II never sounds incoherent or unfocused.  Mesler knew exactly what he was doing when he entered the studio with Miller and Kirk and recorded the In Spiritu trilogy.

In Spiritu II is a thoughtful and consistently rewarding demonstration of what Mesler has to offer as both a melodist and an acoustic pianist.

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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