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13 Masks
solo piano
Cover - 13 Masks
13 Masks
available on Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music, Amazon and Qobuz
Jump to Liner notes

13 MASKS is an interweaving of jazz, avant-garde classical and "Progressive Ragtime" solo piano. Blending each style through the "chaos of the subconscious," Mueller has created compelling musical stories. This collection is a whimsical (and sometimes discordant) departure from his earlier romantic and healing work, Morning Whispers.

Mueller attaches one of 13 Medieval masks to each song, images that are fanciful, haunting, nightmarish, surreal. (See below.) He has created music to match, emphasizing sly humor and surprise, intelligence and innovation, muscularity and angular lines. The results are breakthrough compositions combined with clean, intimate playing.

13 Masks is Tobin Mueller’s follow-up to his 2005 release, Morning Whispers. Full of musical surprises, Mueller interweaves jazz and 20th century classical and blends them through the “chaos of his subconsciousness.” Mueller’s stories, told through the medium of solo piano, are often whimsical and funny, but this is no lightweight piece of entertainment. The music is complex and often challenging, but is not so esoteric to be intimidating. I found it fascinating the first time through, and enjoy it more each time I hear it. This is music for active listening, and most people will not find it relaxing, (it wasn’t intended to be). The cover artwork, also done by Mueller, depicts the thirteen masks of the title. Of those masks, Mueller explains: “More than masks that hide the truth, these are meant to be interior faces of the subconscious that whisper, leer and assert themselves in ways known and unknown.” I love these drawings and their variety of expressions. Tobin Mueller has created a conceptual work of art with “13 Masks.” A powerful and amazing album. Not everyone will appreciate it, but if you enjoy a truly unique album with music to really sink your teeth into, give this a try. Recommended"
- Kathy Parsons, Mainly Piano

Several tracks standout as exceptionally entertaining. "A Monk Caught In The Thelonious Sphere" starts as a tribute to the great jazz-blues pianist (Thelonious Monk's middle name was Sphere), yet travels through moments that could be the soundtrack of a surreal Tom & Gerry cartoon episode. Similarly, "Two Peas In A Chili Pod" begins as a smooth Latin piece, but by the end erupts with unrelenting energy, taking on the entire keyboard. "Stillness of Wings" is a beautiful New Age piece, an oasis of peace amidst this musical tempest. (See below for track notes by the composer.) Playfulness is the main attribute of many of these pieces.

Progressive Ragtime; Crime Jazz; post-Swing meets 20th Century pandemonium and harmonic bewilderment. Influences range from Dave Brubeck to Frank Zappa, Bill Evans to Cecil Taylor.

The longest track, "Chaos of the Subconscious," is the most avant-garde piece in the collection. It is a three movement sonata that, perhaps more than any other track, embodies the sense of nightmare and unfettered subconscious creation. But the soul of a jazz player bubbles up throughout, interrupting, reasserting, especially in the latter variations. Stunning. But it may also be the most off-putting track in the collection, depending on your persepctive.

The New Age beauty of Mueller's earlier works shines through in two exquisite tunes: "Stillness Of Wings" and "Last Mask Falls Away." We are reminded how innocent music can feel.

Mueller's musical theatre period is also represented. "Memories Of Elegance" and the tragic "Holding Breath With Ophelia" both evoke characters and story lines. "Shadows of Success" combines the quirkiness of Medeski with the urbanity of Gershwin. The breadth of styles Mueller is able to seamlessly shape into coherent musical statements is a testament to his skill and cross-genre experience.

13 Masks — Liner Notes by the composer
Mask 1
You Make My Heart Skip A Beat
The album starts off with a Progressive Ragtime Fugue. It is paired with the mask I call "Unicorn Girl." Wings frame her face, ribbons swirl into a unicorn-like point atop curls and twigs, and her combination of bird-and-garden youthfulness all play into the whimsical variations the song strings together. She seems a steady innocent amidst the chaos of the world. This is the sense I was trying to portray with the music. Like a unicorn creating Spring amidst a tempest of swirling winter wind. I drop beats throughout, on purpose, which is one of the reasons I chose the title.
Mask 2
The Gumshoe Wears A Rag
Not only do I love Whodunits and Private Eye thrillers, I was actually a private detective for 3-4 years in the early 1980s, before I got an agent and my music/writing career took off. This piece is also a homage to the Film Noire soundtracks composed by the likes of Stan Getz, Count Basie, and others. (See the bottom of the page for the YouTube video.) Melodrama, humor and romance combine in this piece, which could be a sountrack to a silent film. The mask, "Old Blue Eyes," stares calmly, waiting just around the corner, or just under the darkened bridge... The song ends in lonely triumph, of course. Click here to watch the film noire Music Video on YouTube
Mask 3
Shadow of Success
I was listening to Medeski Martin & Wood before I began improvising what would eventually become this song. For some reason, the haulting bass line that underscores grand Gershwin-esque chords made me think of this title. It was either a desire for success that lacked the courage to achieve it; or living in the shadow of former success. "Frightened by Flame," the mask, with its fiery gold colors and cello ears, has all the makings of ambition and bravado, except for the expression, which radiates worry and trepidation. Success is almost achieved (or recaptured) at the 2:50 mark, but then the music slides back into the shadows cast by this fanciful and endearing character.
Mask 4
Memories of Elegance
This track is based a song from my 2004 musical, Runners In A Dream. In the show, Never So Frightened is sung by a young girl caught in the horrors of the Holocaust. The mask represents the awful apperation of the upstairs woman who betrays her. I've named it "Judgement." Trying to divorce myself from my earlier composition, I invented a new story for 13 Masks. Since some of the passages had the elegance of a late Duke Ellington piece, I re-imagined the song sung by an older women who had escaped the Holocaust, was still haunted by its terrors, as well as the loss of the elegant life she once lived. Perhaps the mask illustrates her? This sense of what was lost kicks in, especially, around the 3:12 mark.
Mask 5
Stillness of Wings
The opening and ending to this song was originally written as incidental music for a 1996 musical I never finish, "Merlyn." Some ideas just happen at the wrong time. Their moment of possibility flies away like a butterfly. To illustrate this, the internal cadenza is played from the point of view of one with wings. The mask, "Flight and Laughter," as opposed to being a vacuously giggling imp (as you may think at first glance), understands the stillness of wings, the peace one finds in the air high above the crowd, the joy of escape found in aimless reverie. Or, Merlyn sitting alone, resting tired bones, lost on memory, forgetting he is no longer youthful. Check out the hummingbirds in the Music Video on YouTube.
Mask 6
Chaos of the Subconscious
I had originally wanted to do a 20th Century solo piano version of an organ piece I'd written 12 years earlier, Vortigern's Fortress, a scene from the never-completed Merlyn. But as I rehearsed the original score, I kept hearing interruptions and side-whisperings. Since this was a project in which I was supposed to listen to my subconscious, I gave into it. This is the result. You can follow the link to the organ piece which, after consious consideration, I still like better. Sigh. The mask, "Mortality Questioned," seems to have known it all along. Sometimes one can be too clever. The piece is too long, but there are some great moments, nonetheless. It makes the opening bars of the next track all that much more soothing, at least!
Mask 7
Two Peas in a Chili Pod
The fellow who played guitar on Rain Bather was in a Latin band. He tried to teach me the fundamentals of Latin keyboard rhythms. I could never appreciate the repetition and, sadly, never figured out how to translate the overall technique to a solo piano, without the clava, conga and other percussion helping to establish the rhythms. But I wanted to try my hand at my own version of Latin piano. My favorite part is toward the end, when I throw caution to the wind and try to play it like Thelonious Monk might have, channelling my subconscious mischievousness. The mirrored masks, "Hidden Winks," represents my left brain / right brain "conflicts," two pease in a pod...
Mask 8
A Monk Caught in a Thelonious Sphere
In preperation for this project, I listened to all the Thelonious Monk I could find. There are some surviving clips of him on YouTube from which I tried try to figure out how he is doing what he does. Of course, one seem like a green jackass if you tell people that sort of thing. Although, as YouTube goes, it's a better usage than many others I've employed. The mask I chose for this track, "Lampwick Grows Old," takes its inspiration from the Pinocchio story, and provides the right amount of humor and humility. It should also be noted, regarding the title, that "Sphere" is Monk's middle name. How cool is that! This may be the most accessible track on the CD.
Mask 9
Chromatisome Swing
This song was intended to be an homage to Oscar Peterson, who died in 2007 when I was recording this album. Oscar Perterson is Jazz giant. He was called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, but simply "O.P." by his friends. I never mastered stride piano, at which O.P. was the best, but try to make up for it with other techniques. O.P. is one of those demigods who always has more to teach. The "Golden Goggles" expression, which exudes very high expectations, represents my hope Oscar would've enjoyed this song's use of several Jazz influences. Sometimes our subconscious desire to impress can lead us to push ourselves in constructive ways.
Mask 10
Holding Breath with Ophelia
This track is based on the original prelude and opening scene from what would become Runners In A Dream, my musical (written with Randyl Appel) set in the Holocaust. The opening was completely rewritten before anyone saw the show, but several of these themes found their way into other songs. This is the longest track in the CD, it describes an epic tragedy. Ophelia is torn apart, goes mad, from a series of disastorous fallouts from misread moments, crushing passions, ill-advised actions, being overrun by the chaos of her subconsious. The mask, "Surviving Under Water," is a likely observer of Ophelia's final moments. He may seem like a cynically creature, making fun of her weaknesses, but that may only be, as they say, a mask. We sometimes mock what we fear the most.
Mask 11
Let Me Play With Those Horns, Amalthea
This is the instrumental version of a song I included in my 2008 release, A Bit of Light, on which I sing and play keys, McBoy plays guitar, and Bill Barner plays clarinet. It was recorded prior to this solo piano version, even though 13 Masks came out a year earlier. I wrote this in my living room in Manhattan, but chose a new setting for this solo piano version:

Amalthea ("tender goddess") is the foster-mother of Zeus, a goat-nymph who suckled the infant-god in a cave. Amalthea's skin, after she was killed and skinned by the grown Zeus, became the magically protective Aegis, worn like a sash. (A vivid metaphor for the historical transfer of religious power from the goddess to the god.) My song, however, takes place before all that, when Amalthea could still leap like a happy mother goat along the cliffs of Mount Olympus.

Mask 12
I Sail On (into deeper waters)
I first recorded this song on my album Morning Whipsers. But as I kept playing it, I began altering certain passages and wanted to try recording it again. Also, a friend of my, Troy Paiva, helped arrange a Progressive Rock version, which gave me even more ideas. I added a wildly dissonant intro. I thought I has suubstantially improved it. However, after the passage of a few more yeras, I think my version on Morning Whipsers remains a better version. I would, at least, remove the intro if I ever reissue 13 Masks. This version also seems a tad too long, and sometimes makes me want to scream. The mask "Incoming Waves" captures my current feelings toward the piece. Or, it could just be a merman watching my sailboat as it cascades through the waves. Regarding the mask, I also hope to have those kind of impressive eyebrows, some day.
Mask 13
The Last Mask Falls Away
I knew the title to this final piece before I began writing it. It's an homage to all those who helped define New Age piano back in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I can still remember hearing Liz Story for the first time, stunned that someone else was playing the kind of music I was developing. This song has a sense of reach, touch, discovery, and movement out of isolation that I felt when hearing others play would, in a few years, be called New Age music. The music was to be a sauve, a way forward, a homage to hymns and quietude, an expression of internal longing. The lion mask, "Finding Courage," may seem, at first blush, to not be so apropos. But, keep looking...

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All masks