One of the freshest and most sheerly entertaining, intriguing and exciting recordings I've come across, Tobin Mueller's Rain Bather is the product of its composer's kaleidoscopic mind. Primarily utilizing jazz arrangements of songs written for Mueller's Broadway play, Creature -- itself based on Frankenstein -- Rain Bather's compositions range from progressive big band to funk, fusion to world music to classical to straight ahead jazz. This cascade of styles could be wearisome, but not in the hands of this sensitive composer, who moves the listener assuredly through the paces.
Mueller grew up in Neenah, WI, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Marquette University and UW Milwaukee. He has since moved east to Connecticut where he has been engaged in writing musical theater, political essays, ballets, film scores, children's music, founded the online arts community ArtsForge, been honored by the U.N. For his work with kids and the environment, recorded and released several albums in various genres, and oh yes, also managed to record with many other musicians, including Dave Brubeck and Donny McCaslin. Does this begin to give you an idea of the breadth of this renaissance man's talents and vision?
Much of Rain Bather was recorded at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, and the wonderful group of musicians he has enlisted sound truly inspired to be playing such compelling music. Centered around Mueller's refreshingly original B-3 organ playing, the musicians involved include drummer/percussionist Dane Richeson, who is familiar to Chicagoans and appeared on John Moulder's "Trinity," and also features Mueller's talented nephew Chris Mueller prominently on piano. Bassist Jeff Cox fills out the primary quartet, while the group expands to a big band octet on three tunes, and a septet on two others. In addition to Woody Mankowski (soprano/tenor saxophones), Tom Washatka (tenor sax), Ken Schaphorst (flugelhorn), Bob Levy (trumpet), Sal Giorgianni (flute) and McBoy (electric guitar), others make welcome appearances, including Martin Kember-Smith, who adds some sprightly fiddle on "Caught in the Current," clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Bill Barner, and tenor saxophonist Doug Schneider, whose lovely playing graces the romantic ballad "Waltzing Night Into Day."
Fans of progressive big band (Eddie Palmieri's Zappa covers, Carla Bley also comes to mind at times -- as she utilizes an organ in her quirky big band sound) will love the opener -- "I Wanna Fly," as well as "Cliff's Edge," "Lightning Strikes," and more. Fusion-heads will thrill to "Must Go Back," the funky 'Windowshade," trip-hop enthusiasts will love "Acid Hopping" and the "Last Song on Vaudeville." Meanwhile there are the simply indescribable like "Secret of Life," "Finding No Path" and the melodically engaging "River Runs Through Me." Perhaps the centerpiece of everything is the incredible "Seven Buttons On a Nehru Jacket" which, hard to believe, is able to live up to it's delightfully psychedelic title (groovy flute courtesy of Mr. Giorgianni). I have listened to this recording multiple times and continue to discover new surprises and look forward to hearing more of Mueller's work, even as I continue to explore this impressive album. Highly recommended for the open-minded listeners among us.