My musical encounters with Tobin Mueller have, thus far, been with his more orchestrated and collaborative compositions. The five compilation albums I am now familiar with run from the deft and delicate to the deeply textured, but space and restraint have always been an essential and largely unseen hand within them. Instead of Heaven now takes us to a very different place.
Here, instead of a roster of the great and good of the music world helping him define, direct and drive the music into its final form, he strips things back to their most simple essence. One piano, one player. This is Tobin Mueller laid bare, and the result is a collection of solo piano meditations. And it is gorgeous.
Blending classical Romanticism and more contemporary jazz vibes, ambience and adventure, understatement and ornateness, he bares his musical soul across ten masterful and moving pieces. And, as I have said before, there is something different about our relationship with instrumental music, a different form of communication involved, one that swaps the directness of lyrics for a dialogue experienced more through a process of osmosis as feelings, thoughts and memory are conjured in the individual rather than broadcast by the player.
And, as the names of the songs demonstrate, each is a musing on a tale from Greek mythology; although not knowing anything about such stories doesn’t spoil the listener’s enjoyment or change their experience, but it does give us an exciting insight into the impetus behind these narrative compositions.
However, my description of Tobin’s work here is, as it generally is, overly simplistic. Because you get to a point where you realise that words have their limits, and you have to acknowledge the truth in the quote from which this site takes its name -” Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” – that you can’t begin to describe one art form through the filter and restrictions of another.
The music may appear uncomplicated, delicate, and restrained and yes, it, of course, possesses those qualities, but there is much more at work here than understatement. The true art lies in his careful selection of each note, the skilful expression with which that note is deployed, and the discernment of when to let silence, no matter how briefly, hold sway and when to complement it with another perfectly placed piece of sound.
You could argue that it doesn’t take much to make music, a few chords, and the ability to string a few notes together; sadly, that is the way of the modern world – to quote Noel Coward, “It is strange the potency of cheap music.” But to be able to use music to bring an imaginary world into being, to breathe life into a thing that didn’t exist before you began playing, if there were such a thing as magic in the world, indeed, this is it.