I, Mike Neumeyer, am proud to present the beautiful and talented writing of Graham Marlowe; depicting my own “Assorted Mallets” – one of the few albums that exist with solo works for marimba and voice. Another album is definitely on the books for the future, so keep the radar out for more recordings from Mike Neumeyer & Friends.
Album Review: “Assorted Mallets: Selections by Michael Neumeyer”
Written by Graham Marlowe
On a clear day, you can see forever…or so goes the title of that jazz song/musical. Milwaukee-area percussionist/composer Michael Neumeyer, a native of Port Washington, would know exactly what this phrase means…especially since the vast, seemingly endless shores of Lake Michigan are something he grew up sincerely appreciating.
And while that heavenly sky-blue horizon doesn’t always fit the character of Neumeyer’s music, it makes for a uniquely soothing backdrop to the strongest compositions of the composer’s mostrecent compilation, Assorted Mallets: Selections by Michael Neumeyer.
Despite drawing heavy influence(s) from jazz, progressive rock, and avant-classical music, Neumeyer’s compositions have a dreamy, almost hypnotic quality that blurs the line between jazz and classical in ways most ears are unaccustomed to. This is especially true of his marimba/voice songs, a genre so rare you’d think he created it based on his songs’ lulling beauty.
Replete with percussive ostinato patterns, reflective lyrics, and icy-hot modal motifs, the songs’ omega points often arrive when Neumeyer’s calming voice harmonizes gently yet powerfully with the slight dissonance resonating from the wooden bars beneath him. Tracks like “Night of Mourning” and “Freezing Snow”, positively speaking, would sound somewhat lost in time to a modern audience.
Such tracks evoke images of Victorian parlors and 19th-century American short stories with their minor-key themes and meditative poetry regarding “forgetfulness divine” (“The Power of Music”) and the “silent conversation[s]” of his past (“Years of Silence”). Neumeyer’s lyrics are not ancient poetry, but their enlightened viewpoint — combined with his command of the instrument — makes for an unusual, frequently arresting result.
At worst, tracks like “Flying Dreams” are a right-field blend of Disney, Chinese classical and video game music that’s as accessible as it is memorable. In others, like in the East-meets-West modality of “The Power of Music”, Neumeyer’s melismatic vocals are followed by a segment showcasing his chops as an improviser. Those with a thirst for the experimental will appreciate the intro to “Years of Silence”, wherein the composer combines a spacy/humorous Vibratone improv with Gregorian chant technique, and then segues into a subdued Latin groove.
The marimba/voice pairings are certainly Neumeyer’s specialty, but Assorted Mallets whisks listeners away in a variety of ways, thanks to his other talents as an instrumentalist
A tour de force for the compilation, the masterful solo vibraphone of “Skies of a Landless Horizon” is sure to lower the blood pressure of even the most impatient listener. The track’s simple, Impressionism brings to mind Keith Jarrett’s immaculate, all-improvised Koln Concert from 1975 as Neumeyer slowly builds a gorgeous, sometimes cinematic canvas of sound…coaxing the instrument’s vibrato wheel and forming a balmy, harmonious haze. Needless to say, after three deceptively short minutes the listener hungers for more.
At times the music graces the edge of kitsch, though it is always in good fun. For instance, “Jazz or Jass” and “June” — mostly-improvised jazz combo pieces — would sound right at home with the deftly-arranged, mostly unserious world of ‘70s TV themes. Conversely, “Beatboxin’ It” is a spitting image of the Phish catalog’s beloved, vaguely psychedelic a cappella oddities — a guilty pleasure for nearly any music fan, with an emphasis on pleasure.
This collection may not represent the extent of Neumyer’s talent(s), though it’s a worthwhile introduction to the composer’s stylistic diversity and ambitions.
The music’s back-and-forth oscillations from melancholic introspection to blissful joy are often and varied, minus how the composer’s brand of bone-dry humor is more a feature of his live performances than his recordings.
Neumeyer, like much of the up-and-coming talent today, sounds best suited for the mid-to-late ‘70s: an era where jazz and classical world began an ugly affair that spawned a series of commercially viable weirdness.