With his heart on his sleeve… and more
Elan Mehler – Trouble in Mind – Sunnyside Records (CD – 53:11) – ****1/2
(Elan Mehler – solo piano)
There are times when an artist, left alone, and with life issues percolating, can openly express their feelings, without the need for explanation, knowing full well that it will be for “them only,” and if shared it will reach the right people. Those receiving this “gift,” if open themselves, will honor and appreciate this “offering.”
Such is the case with the new solo piano CD, just released on Sunnyside Records, by pianist (and impresario of the boutique jazz LP label, Newvelle Records), Elan Mehler. Titled, Trouble in Mind, its release itself is a story to be shared.
Recorded in New Orleans, just three weeks before COVID came on with a vengeance, and wrecked its havoc on a scared nation, Elan was there to record Ellis Marsalis, for Newvelle’s New Orleans themed series of vinyls, that explored the vital richness of the NOLA scene, by artists both known and those begging for wider recognition.
After flight delays causing an overnight stay in Austin, Texas, Mehler, sleep deprived, arrived in town to find out that the Marsalis session could not be recorded that day (2/17/20). Going through major life issues himself at that time, Elan was presented with an empty large studio, complete with an awaiting piano. Encouraged by the studio producer, and needing to pour out his heart a bit, Elan sat down at the piano.
The creative, therapeutic process began. With four of his own originals and eight introspective gems (from among Ellington, Mingus, Bill Frisell, Rogers and Hart) Mehler lays himself open, both raw, and ranging from tender to intense, the results are deeply moving. The tracks, heavy on blues, explore a period, both in his life and in the country at that time (maybe still today?) of self reflection, tinged with fear, yet knowing that without hope we have nothing.
Throughout all tracks, nearly an hour, Mehler makes use of space, much like Bill Evans and Hank Jones, letting the notes linger, seeping into our consciousness.
It begins with “In a Sentimental Mood,” taken at a bluesy stroll, each phrase resonant, or “Esplanade Blues,” exploratory, testing the water, with the right and left hands communicating, in a call and response. Mingus’ “Alice’s Wonderland,” is so tender, like a warm hug to a wounded friend.
One of my favorite tracks, “Justice and Honor,” written by Bill Frisell, sets a touching mood that words can’t convey, while the original, “There at the Heart,” has a hopeful feel. The title track is gospel tinged as is Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” There is a ruminative “My Funny Valentine,” with a “let’s see where this goes” intensity increase. I will always wonder what the inspiration was for “I Should Have Prayed for Rain.”
Elan Mehler pours out his heart openly on this release. Those that listen with accepting ears, will find much to love, and an opportunity to reflect on their own life’s journey.
Elan Mehler – Trouble in Mind
In a Sentimental Mood
Justice and Honor
There at the Heart
Trouble in Mind
In My Solitude
Out of Nowhere
I Should Have Prayed for Rain
My Funny Valentine
Scheme for Thought
More information through Sunnyside Records