13 MASKS is an interweaving of jazz, avant-garde classical, and what the composer has dubbed "Progressive Ragtime" solo piano. Blending each style through the "chaos of his subconscious," Mueller has created compelling musical stories. This collection is a whimsical departure from his earlier romantic and healing work, MORNING WHISPERS.
Mueller attaches one of 13 masks to each song, images that are fanciful, haunting, nightmarish, surreal. He creates music to match, emphasizing sly humor and surprise, intelligence and innovation. The results are breakthrough compositions combined with clean, intimate playing.
Several tracks standout as exceptionally entertaining. "A Monk Caught In The Thelonious Sphere" starts as a tribute to the great jazz-blues pianist (Thelonious Monk's middle name was Sphere), yet transforms into a tour de force of next-generation personality. Similarly, "Two Peas In A Chili Pod" begins as a smooth latin piece and by the end erupts with mind-blowing energy, transcending into something entirely undefinable. "I Sail On (into deeper waters)" begins in a tempestuous storm, then settles into a Brubeck-like groove that floats up and down deep sea waves, creating a visceral journey through countless time signatures. Playfulness is the main attribute of "Let Me Play With Those Horns, Amalthea," again sailing through almost every key signature available, although the final vamp borders on tongue-and-cheek pop.
Several of the tracks define a new sub-genre of music: Neo-Progressive Ragtime. "Gumshoe," "Chromatisome Swing" and "You Make My Heart Skip A Beat" (full of skipped beats and hints of romance) all include the sense of rag stylings, pushed to a new level of contemporary originality and harmonic bewilderment.
The longest track, "Chaos of the Subconscious," is the most classical (Twentieth Century) piece in the collection. It is a three movement sonata that, perhaps more than any other track, embodies the sense of nightmare and unfettered subconscious creation. But the soul of a jazz player bubbles up throughout, interrupting, reasserting, especially in the latter variations. Stunning.
The new age beauty of Mueller's earlier works shines through in two exquisite tunes: "Stillness Of Wings" and "Last Mask Falls Away." We are reminded how innocent and honest music can feel.
Mueller's musical theatre period is also represented. "Memories Of Elegance" and the tragic "Holding Breath With Ophelia" both evoke characters and story lines. "Shadows of Success" combines the quirkiness of Medeski with the urbanity of Gershwin. The breadth of styles Mueller is able to seamlessly shape into coherent music statements is a testament to his skill and cross-genre experience.
The playing on 13 MASKS is virtuosic. The recordings are recorded without excess reverb, making you feel as if you are standing aside the piano. Songs for the composer, musician or active listener looking for something new. You are reminded how powerful solo piano can be.