Friday, February 24, 2012

Celebrating Gershwin, Volume 2

David Paul Mesler

Celebrating Gershwin, Volume 2
Review by Wildy Haskell

Emmy-nominated composer and pianist David Paul Mesler is known the world over for his eclectic blend of jazz and classical styles, thrilling audiences with 125 live dates per year while composing scores and incidentals for film and television. The artist has performed for politicians, presidents and movie stars, and has had his works featured in such films as The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Finding Home, First Daughter and The Wrong Guy. Mesler continues his series of tributes to top-notch contributors to the Great American Songbook with Volume II of Celebrating Gershwin.

Mesler is a dervish on the piano, both throughout the earlier collection and Celebrating Gershwin, Volume II. His style is eclectic, doing for Gershwin's music what Miles Davis did for traditional jazz, and then some. Mesler takes classic melodies as his blueprint, and builds excessive runs and variations around them until, at times, the original Gershwin melodies are practically unrecognizable. Mesler gets started with "Strike Up The Band", building a busy series of riffs off the classic melody. His take on "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" is solid, but "Bidin' My Time" is frankly unrecognizable for much of the song.

"A Foggy Day" is one of the best interpretations in the two-volume series. While messy and enigmatic in Mesler's style, the song carries enough of the spirit of the original to appeal to Gershwin fans. There's a sense here that Mesler is holding back on his expansive tendencies this time around, and the result is enjoyable. "Fascinating Rhythm" also finds Mesler holding back a bit, taking a more balance approach to the mix of melody and variation. "Embraceable You" is offered in a highly enjoyable rendition. Mesler still tends to overdo it, but it's nowhere near as oppressive as on Volume I. Interpretations of "I Loves You Porgy" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" are solid, and bookend a bordering-on-brilliant take on "I Was Doing Alright". This lyric interpretation is lovely, and even if Mesler still struggles to rein himself in at times, Gershwin's pure melody shines though with an almost preternatural light. Mesler closes on a high note, with an expansive but structurally modest take on "They Can't Take That Away From Me".

Mesler seems to mature in approach on Celebrating Gershwin, Volume II, stepping back (mostly) from the abyss of chopsticks-style percussive piano play that pervaded Volume I. Mesler shows that he is capable of tremendous technical precision, and no one who listens to his piano works will ever question whether he plays with passion. Still, Mesler continues to struggle with Gershwin for control of the songs. While paying tribute to Gershwin's music, Mesler doesn't so much interpret the songs as commandeer them for his own. The result is unnerving at times. The progressive crowd will call it visionary, while the traditionalists are likely to take a much dimmer view. Wherever your opinion lies, one thing is for certain: Mesler will keep you on your toes.

Review by Wildy Haskell
Rating:  3 Stars (out of 5)

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

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