Tobin Mueller has walked on many sonic shores, let proggy waves wash over his feet, splashed in the waters of chilled tones, and bathed in lyrical textures. He’s frolicked with funk, performed a few pas-de-deux with almost pop-like moments and wandered from chilled understatement to robust rock outs. But, I still always associate him most, perhaps because it is where I first encountered him, with a modern jazz sound. So, for now, at least, Distortion of Memory takes things full circle for me, the first of many such musical circumferences I’m yet to travel.
Distortion of Memory is the sound of a group of jazz players doing what they do best. Players moving around each other with deftness, each allowing the other a spot in the limelight, creating new sonic threads that call back to earlier golden ages whilst also laying the pathway for bright new features.
Jazz has been a bit of a cult music form in recent years. It is a niche style that plays to fans and devotees but may be gathering new audiences like other genres do in the modern age. This is why we need players like Tobin Mueller and his fellow musical friends and collaborators, players able to walk a line between sophisticated deliveries and a fresh sound. Players are making music that pleases the purists yet fling the doors open to a new following.
Over Tobin’s cascading piano runs and shimmering lines, regular collaborator Woody Mankowski‘s saxophone acts as the focal point. Instructed to “use some spit to make this one crackle,” he helps evoke an old-school mood, that warm, sophisticated sound that evokes the gentle background noise of the clinking of glassware and cutlery in bygone, uptown supper club performances. That conjures tuxedos and formal dress. That speaks of the style and panache of an age seemingly lost, but perhaps not.
But perhaps more than most genres, jazz music is all about the dexterity and ornateness of the rhythm section and here, the understatement of Blue Note drummer Dane Richeson and the mellifluous basslines of Jess Cox create the perfect safety net for piano and saxophone to ebb and flow over, knowing that even when they stand back, the drums and bass have things covered in every bit as interesting a way as the lead instruments.
And, of course, a Tobin Mueller tune wouldn’t be complete without a cool video. Here, interspersed with the idea of looking through old photographs, the title, which may slightly allude to a Salvador Dali work, the video reinforces the connection between jazz and surrealism—however, some abstract, artistic and compelling interlude images of artists’ work.
A great tune, of course, it is; look at the calibre of the players—a fantastic tune that is spacious, evocative, virtuosic and cleverly wrought. It is a complete tune that tugs at nostalgic heartstrings and, through the video, reminds us of the outsider and controversial place that jazz held in the minds of discerning music fans.