Doug Wieselman – From Water (2014)

For non-musicians, the creative process can be something of a mystery. The composer has all of that training about melody, harmony, scales, time signatures, and chord progressions — and out of that the musical ideas are born…somehow. The truth is that while the process can indeed be opaque (sometimes even to the composer), it’s not necessarily loaded down with music’s more technical aspects.

The compositions on clarinetist Doug Wieselman’s new recording From Water were inspired by his various encounters with water. In his own words:

This is music primarily made from melodies that I have heard from bodies of water – ocean beaches, streams, hot springs as well as wind. These melodies sound to me like a chorus of exuberant voices. Each melody is specific to the place. If I return to a beach, even after many years, I hear the same song. I think this has something to do with what the earth can tell us, if only we can take the time and patience to listen. This is an attempt to share what I have been hearing, through the filter of my perception, from water.

Now, a cynic might think that this sounds a little new agey but if you give these solo clarinet pieces a listen, you’ll find their beauty and simplicity can’t be so easily dismissed.

Wieselman, who has worked with an impressive array of artists — a short list: Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Lou Reed, The Lounge Lizards, Iron & Wine, Anthony & the Johnsons, Robert Wilson, Yoko Ono, Wayne Horvitz, Marianne Faithfull — plays all of these compositions on vintage clarinets, live looped through a 1960 Fender Vibrolux amplifier. The looping allows Wieselman to explore a variety of sonic moods. On “Kepler-22b,” he adds harmony to a pedal tone, creating a lovely bloom…until closer intervals are brought in to shift that bloom into pulsing fields of dissonance. “Pacific 2″ begins with a circuitous melody that’s captured to serve as the bed for further improvisations. On “Gloria Fleur Madre,” layering is jettisoned in favor of wildly angular intervalic leaps.

One of the most striking pieces on From Water is “Tennessee Valley (Choir),” which switches from the clarinet to an incredible layering of voices. Though it probably wasn’t the author’s intent, I perceived this as a chorus emanating from those water sources, singing back to the observer. Great stuff.

What, exactly, Doug Wieselman heard during his water encounters is in fact, completely a mystery to us. But if the interpretations of those moments as presented on From Water are any indication, the voices of water must have been quite alluring. Nature is like that.

From Water is out today on Shahzad Ismaily’s 88 Records and is available at CD Baby.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.