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MUSHY WIDMAIER - MY WORLD | Revisiting The Arrawaks' World

Mushy Widmaier | My World, 2006 ReleaseSeptember 6, 2006 - The latest release from pianist Mushy Widmaier, almost twenty years after the highly acclaimed "Kote ou" (Mushi & Lakansyel), offers a journey to the Arrawak World. With no surprise, this CD confirms again that Mushy is a skillful and highly advanced pianist and a talented arranger. This project reunites the upper crust of Haitian musicians and for his second release, after more than 22 years, Mushy Widmaier demonstrates deep skills at musical intricacy.

The CD opens with the "Dance of the Arrawaks": a tribute to the former inhabitants of Haiti Quysqueya. The melody of this piece is articulated into joyful phrases. The pianist, for his solo, uses harmonic structures supported by a series of dissonant chords (active left hand) that make the piece sounds dramatic and very interesting. The incorporation of one of our folk song "Men yo", hummed in unison at the closure of the piece, is well done. There are many good pieces on this album. To name a few, Ayizan, Malouk, Ti Djo and Oye-o are to be considered new icons in the pianist's repertoire.

I could make a review of each single piece on this CD and dissect them section by section, but the exercise would be useless. The reader can easily discover that by listening to the CD. Although the pieces on the album exhibit real craftsmanship, "My World" did not meet my expectations. I am under the impression that the pianist is still looking for his own "language". One oddity on this album is the omnipresence of the synthesizer. Indeed Mushy has developed the killing habit (in my opinion) of inserting the cold electric sound of the synthesizer everywhere. Perhaps it is because he still carries the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) influence in his sleeves (hard to believe after 22 years). The choir lines on "Dance of the Arrawak" renders that Brazilian flavor so typical of PMG. The release of "Kote ou?", in 1983, (Reissued by Crossover Record in 1996) paradoxically introduced many listeners to the music of the PMG.

To better understand my point, I think it is important to revisit history a bit. "The influence of electric sound has reached its apogee in the history of jazz music in the 70's. With rock and soul appealing to a younger generation, jazz musicians were torn between following conventional approaches to their music and pursuing the avant-garde. Miles Davis (again!) chose another direction, one that incorporated the influences of rock and soul music as well as modal and contemporary approaches to jazz. This music became known as fusion. with revolutionary "super groups" led by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), Chick Corea (Return To Forever), John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Herbie Hancock, and Michael Brecker (Brecker Brothers). By no coincidence, most of the leaders of the fusion movement had spent time in the '60s or '70s Miles Davis groups. For the reader's information, all these musicians have their own distinctive styles. During these years, fusion became increasingly innovative and adventurous, melding the wild energy of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix with the advanced technical proficiency of the most evolved jazz musicians. Fusion often incorporated elements of world music - Latin, African, Indian, and Caribbean influences. The fusion style with its very accessible rock-oriented textures gained widespread popularity but declined by the end of the decade. In its place rose a somewhat less aggressive form of electric music called "contemporary" jazz, as well as the "neo-classic" period of the 1980s." Miles Davis' huge influence upon a whole generation of musicians is a brilliant illustration on how positive and rewarding musical influences can be. Many prominent musicians in jazz tend to converge toward a more acoustic and avant-garde sound as they grow in terms of musical experience and language/style development. Acoustic sound seems to be the common vector to convey such an experience. Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, to name a few, are unique folks in their categories. They have developed their own identity through the study of previous master's works and exploration of cutting-edge electric sound. Such a prowess does not happen overnight and producing in the shadow of your major influences might not drive to this distinctive language that emerges from rich and diverse musical experiences.

Mushy's CD could be classified in the contemporary jazz period. Nowadays, musicians have at their disposal a humungous amount of materials to work on. These resources are incessantly revisited by young jazz prodigies. Consequently, innovation is more difficult to achieve, since everybody has access to the same information and most young jazz players exhibit talents and astonished virtuosity in the execution of the standards. The value of a jazz piece, in my opinion, should lay more upon the distinctive and original approach of the composer/interpreter than the technical virtuosity applied in rendering such a piece. There's been decade of controversies and acid criticisms on the music perception of the "neo-classics" who advocate a flawless mastery of the forms. Their detractors always emphasize on the coldness of their too-much-perfect-music.

As a listener, my judgment of this CD is based on a triangular approach. I looked at:
1. The uniqueness and originality of the work.
(distinctive musical touch/personality of the musician)
2. The cleverness of the conception. (The idea that drives the album)
3. The technical accomplishment. (Talent as a musician)

The CD "My world" exhibits strength on the last two criteria; but the first requirement of this trilogy is missing. It is in reality an intrusion into somebody else's world. The jazz musician must be able to incessantly extend his/her musical skills and reinvent himself (herself) every day. The mere fact of reaching technical ability does not suffice. The ultimate goal is not only to master the form, but to deeply touch the soul of the listener through a very distinctive style. Mushy has still to find his own voice in this musical intricacy he seems to affectionate so much. As Keith Jarret put it so well:" It is not only about playing right, it is about the rightness of the music".

Recommendation: It is worth to buy this CD. Mushy Widmaier is one of our most valuable Jazz Icon. I like to keep track of my folks' progress. I somewhat hope for some future project on acoustic piano exclusively.

Alphonse Piard, Jr.
September 6, 2006

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