The Muller's Wheel - Tobin Mueller & Woody Mankowski
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"The Muller’s Wheel" is a fascinating and exuberant piano/sax collaboration by Tobin Mueller and Woody Mankowski. Rather than presenting a compilation of previously-released material, they have created a brilliant retrospective of musical influences - jazz styles and artists that played a part in shaping their own artistry. Both artists are accomplished in many genres of music, so it is no surprise that their influences are also varied. Quoting Tobin Mueller, “This is a personal journey through jazz influences - from swing to bop to fusion to funk. For me, it begins with music my mother would’ve loved to dance to and heads toward music I like to dance to.” The original intent of the album was to create music based on works both recognizable and fun, but Mueller discovered that the force of personality cannot be contained. The collection includes three pieces from Mueller’s award-winning 2009 release, Rain Bather, as well as a vocal (by Mankowski) from Mueller’s 1996 musical, Creature. Mueller appears on piano, organ, and synths; Mankowski on saxes; Fran Dagostino on guitars; Arthur Kell on bass; and Dane Richeson on drums.
“Seafood Gumbo” opens the set with an energetic yet playful swing style that lets you know right off that this album is gonna cook! “Oasis On the Rocks” picks up the tempo even more and lets all the artists shine. “Saddle Shoe Sally” is a very danceable sax showpiece with a sunny attitude. “Lost In the West Village” is a funky favorite and is very much a conversation between piano and sax. At almost nine minutes, all of the musicians have a chance to stretch out and explore the possibilities of the piece. Sometimes structured and sometimes experimental, it never loses momentum - great stuff! “Windowshade” was one of my favorites on Rain Bather and is here, too. “Fusion of Minds” is especially cool because it is performed with acoustic instruments rather than synths and electronic keyboards. Both Mueller and Mankowski take extended solos that showcase their individuality and then come back together as a seamless duo combining energies to make the music soar. Love it! “Distortion of Memory” slows it ‘way down to a sultry late-night slow dance or a film noir soundtrack. An effective contrast to the high energy pieces, it’s wonderful on its own. The blues-infused “Struttin’ Up Bourbon” features Mueller on organ and some great sax licks. “River Runs Through Me” is a slow, melodic beauty that demonstrates just how versatile these artists are. The vocal, “Shape of My Life,” goes in another direction altogether with a slow, soulful ballad. The closing bonus track brings the album full circle - a vocal of “Seafood Gumbo” by Angel Hope that’s bound to bring a smile.
Tobin Mueller is always full of musical surprises, and "The Muller’s Wheel" is no exception. High energy and full of fun, it provides well over an hour of great jazz. I strongly recommend purchasing the full album to enjoy the retrospective aspect of the music. Recommended!
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