“Death Blues is a multi-disiplinary (sic) project by Jon Mueller that addresses the inevitability of death as impetus to become more present in each moment.” That quote comes from the official website of multi-instrumentalist and percussionist Jon Mueller’s project, Death Blues…and I would be damned to find another band with such a deeply felt and thusly followed through-on mission statement.
You may know Mueller from his more “well known” stints behind the kit in Pele, Volcano Choir and Collections of Colonies of Bees; but he has made several dozen contributions of solo and collaborative material over the years as well. This year’s collaboration with experimental composer William Ryan Fritch is perhaps the most ambitious project either has worked on to date.
Ensemble is no mere album. It is a document. A document exemplifying and portraying the mission statement Mueller has set out upon with this project from the beginning. It also so happens it is also a “literal” document, because the record comes with essays written by several authors concerning life, death, progression and more. The packaging and presentation is an amazing testament to what physical media can strive towards with the right mindset, idea and dedication.
The power of the essays is derived in their ability to mirror the layers and levels of tones and voices heard in the album’s tracks.
From one song to the next in the just over forty minute time span, the depth and richness of texture achieved is absolutely amazing. Chanting choirs, a pulverizing drum set, delicate mallets, hammered acoustic guitar and several other members of the woodwind, brass and percussion family round out the voices that speak to the listener. Tones crafted so intricately and elegantly, yet can hit so hard, ring forth the surreal nature of this life so that it is felt in our heart and mind via our eardrums.
I found myself several times closing my eyes listening to this album, imagining a maestro cueing all the instruments in a grand, orchestral and ironic by no means, Ensemble. With songs fluttering from darker tracks that pulse and wander down string rich paths to those that bounce and are quite “whimsical,” there is something for every mood. All the emotions I could imagine to be felt can be cued, just as the maestro to the timpani, by completely indulging in this album. With that said, to see these songs score a film would be no surprise at all, as they weave tales of their own within their start and end points so well.
Overall, I highly recommend this listening to be experienced in the most “full” way possible. By that I mean, purchase it! Take in the amazing artwork, read the essays and listen to the songs with headphones or on quality speakers to take in all that has occurred here. I very much look forward to Mueller’s next expedition with this project or anything else he may be working on. Just as a note, he also released Non-Fiction on Aaron Turner (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom, Hydra Head Records)’s SIGE Records earlier this year, which I own also and highly suggest giving a listen to.