The Jury Is Out
    

Review by Willard Manus

What a pleasure it is to encounter for the first time the work of a musician who proves to be a towering talent. Pianist Eric Muhler is the artist in question. His new CD (his fifth, it turns out) is called THE JURY IS OUT (Slow Turn Records, visit Ericmuhlerjazz.com). Recorded live in 2008 at The Hillside Club in Berkeley, CA., the album features Muhler and his quartet (Michael Wilcox, bass; Brian Andres, drums; Sheldon Brown, saxophones) exploring seven tunes composed by the pianist, each one of which is a sparkling gem.

The first thing that struck me was how fresh, vital and new-sounding Muhler's compositions were, truly jazz for the 21st century. It helped of course that Muhler was working with musicians who not only understood his music but expressed it as imaginatively and fully as he did. All four men in the quartet play as one, but not in a rigid, monochromatic way. Always probing, testing, contributing, they bring ideas, beauty and color to each and every tune. The purity of their tone is remarkable, likewise their melodic sense.

Muhler's composing gifts are encapsulated in the long piece (12:45) Sun & Clouds, which goes from quiet, introspective passages to powerful, intense and stormy ones, only to resolve itself in tender, wistful, deeply felt fashion.

Together Muhler and his mates make rich, complex, catchy music--memorable music.