Mike Neumeyer’s vibes may transport you

Review: Mike Neumeyer — Cloud Nine (Voirimba)

For all its musical riches, America remains sadly unrepresented by one of the most distinctive instruments of all, the vibraphone. No instrument lives more vibrantly (sorry) in the realm of its own overtones and harmonics. The most recent stars of the vibes, Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson, have long since passed their prominence. So gratitude is in order for Milwaukee vibraphonist Neumeyer’s latest album. It’s solo, so the weight and focus is on his instrument. We soon discover the solo vibes’ ability to bloom, ripple and radiate in a way unmatched by any other instrument. This resonating presence informs all the tunes here, mostly short pieces that understand the ethereal nature of this voice.

For example, the melody of “Ethereal Vibe” forms by each struck note following the wide, peacock-like tail of previously played ones. Neumeyer uses four mallets, so full chords ring richly, translucent yet layered. Yet other times, as on the title tune, he’s down to two mallets, which allows the notes to breathe more.

If this is a meant as a jazz recording, the pieces are surprisingly short, with little improv development. However, the tune “A Vibe of Innocence” has an enchanting melody that flutters around your ear like a flirtatious butterfly, and Neumeyer stretches out just enough on this.

He also employs an electronically-produced, scrim-like backdrop of textural sonority to offset the gleaming purity of the vibes sound. His mastery of sonic effect is all the more impressive considering it’s a live concert recording.

Mike Neumeyer experimenting with a mallet-less, piano-like attack on marimba. 

Still, at some point, all the bright vibrations might feel a bit much, given he’s solo here. I’d love to hear Neumeyer with an offsetting sonic instrument like saxophone, though piano can work, too, as the Modern Jazz Quartet proved for decades.

For a more contrasting vibes style, search out recordings or YouTubes of the under-appreciated Walt Dickerson, with a more muted sound and linear playing, a two-mallet player of a different sort of virtuosity and concept.

But for right now, Cloud Nine may transport you to a special stratosphere of heavenly sonority.

Mike Neumeyer gives a presentation on marimba to a youthful audience in a Spring Green Library. Photos courtesy mikeneumeyer.com

For more on Neumeyer, who’s also a master of the marimba, and to obtain his  recordings, visit his website:



This review was originally published in a shorter form in The Shepherd Express here 



Quarantined brass players reach for the heavens and (excuse me) kiss the sky!

I sent out a group e-mail to friends today, Easter Sunday, about how I was trying to cope with the social distancing and cleanliness in these trying and tragic times.

The more this day has progressed, the more blessed I feel, even cooped up at home, because several friends responded beautifully to my perhaps-oversharing email.*

One message, linked below, literally shouted out to me from my good old friend, the superb Milwaukee jazz trumpeter Kaye Berigan. Kaye leads a quartet that has played for a number of years at Ally’s Bistro on the far northwest side of Milwaukee, with a great bunch of musicians, Jack Carr on drums, Steve Lewandowski on guitar and George Welland on bass (pictured above). Do go see them when this madness subsides.

To be clear, his message wasn’t self-serving, as Kaye is not among these brass players in the YouTube video.

But in my morning email I had mentioned a curiosity occurring as I wrote the message. As I am manually disabled, I try to use voice dictation as best and often as I can. Today in the email, as I referred to the Coronavirus crisis, something striking and almost mysterious, happened.
I repeated the word “crisis” several times (the system usually corrects itself) but each time I clearly articulated “crisis” something else, um, arose. The name “Christ.” This was no joke.

I also struggled for a while at home, today. But since eating a late lunch, I’ve received my friends responses and it feels like shafts of light streaming down through full-chested cumulus clouds. And I’m hearing these inspired brass musicians, making brilliant use of their quarantine. If any instruments shout, it is brass ones, and here gorgeously.

I know in many quarters these days it’s not hip to use words like “blessing,” or to invoke or find solace in the meaning of Easter. But this is simply what has happened to me in the last couple hours. Life is far from easy for me now, as it is for many people everywhere. So we ought to be bleeding empathy for each other. I wish our leaders empathized pro-actively, much more, though some are doing very well for us.

And yet…I have sometimes described myself fashionably as “spiritual but not religious.” But that rings a bit false to me. I take pleasure and sometimes a slight sense of wonder in odd occurrences that feel like signifiers –like that slightly mysterious voice dictation this morning.

I’d also been watching a fine Sunday morning film noir movie, Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt on Turner Classic Movies. Odd fare for the holiday? Yet suddenly that title radiates, newly signifying.

No matter what you believe, or don’t, you gotta get your spiritual power from somewhere. So check out this brass fanfare. And maybe let me know how you feel.

(I’m at kelynchmi@gmail.com. My blog response is not working)

As for Kaye Berigan, he simply wrote, “Regards, Kaye.”

Thanks, my friend.



ps. Here’s another sort of “inspiration,” more down to earth. The message writer calls it “The Ultimate Pleasure Jail” : Guitarist Jack Grassel told me how he and his spouse, singer Jill Jensen, are actually making the most of our very tough virus situation. He let me quote him at length:

“Hi Kev,  It’s weird times.  Ayna?   Jill and I were talking about this whole thing before we went to sleep last night.  This situation reminds me of my time at a catholic high school my parents sent me to.  Occasionally we would go on “retreats” and live in silence for a few days.  I did that a few times at a monastery after I grew up, just to get away from the noise of everything.  I would not talk to or see anyone for a week.  I’d play and listen to music, read books and exercise in my little room.

That’s what I’m doing now. This virus thing causes all of us to go on a retreat.  I actually like it.  No cars, trucks or motorcycles are making noise going by our house.  We are getting food delivered through INSTACART.  We order on line and it comes to our house.  I don’t have to go to a supermarket and hear MUZAK which usually takes hours to get that out of my head.  I’m having fun playing music FOR ME, not for money (although I miss the money), not for an audience (who is talking and playing with their phones) not for a club owner (who puts background music on during our breaks which isn’t jazz and louder than we were playing).
I just played exactly what I wanted to play for 2 hours and then listened to Steve Swallow’s CD REAL BOOK.  Jill made pancakes for breakfast and we listened to old jazz vocal records.
I still have the same full tank of gas in my car from the last week in December.   I’ll probably go for a walk with Jill later and watch a movie on TCM tonight.  This really isn’t so bad.  I call my friends and talk on the phone for a long time or have conversations such as this on the internet.  This is like being in the ultimate pleasure JAIL.   It’s nice as always to hear from you.  Please be careful. You are important to me.
After Jack and I commiserated a bit about the TCM movie channel, he responded:
“Yeah,  We watched Paper Moon last night, before that What’s Up Doc? with Barbara Streisand, before that Treasure of Sierra Madre with Humphery Bogart, before that Robin Hood with Basil Rathbone while eating lots of ice cream and popcorn on the couch or on the floor.  We were real bums yesterday.  Great fun.
It was a TCM 4 movies day and Robert Osbourne lives.  It’s great being grown up.  We can do whatever we want do to  Ha Ha.”
Album cover courtesy Jack Grassel and Jill Jensen/amazon.com


  • thanks Jack and Louisa Loveridge-Gallas!

Composer Erik Satie had a “special” relationship with animals, and this rendition of his famous music aligns with that eccentricity

At Culture Currents we promise to explore the “common and the uncommon” of our culture. Today, we pause to appreciate something uncommon, and even a little highbrow, or as high as a cow’s brow can raise. This is for both lovers of Eric Satie’s fairly sublime piano pieces “Trios Gympnopedes” (which were a staple of classical radio in Milwaukee, at least on the former WFMR.)…Pregnant pause. You noticed the “both” in the last sentence…and for, um, animal lovers. And here the twains shall meet, ready or not.

The performance below is not for classical music purists, however it certainly attracted my calico cat Chloe who hopped up on the desk see what all the luv-ly harmonizing was about.

The choir group is called “Cats & friends Choir.” What would Erik Satie (1866-1925) have thought of this? Like Chloe the cat did, this question leaps to mind. Well, Satie was a bit eccentric, animal-wise, and otherwise.

The composer reportedly once walked a lobster in Paris. There’s an image for you to savor, with perhaps the long shadow of the Eiffel Tower falling across the crustacean’s path. Because of Satie’s apparent special regard for critters, I suspect that he’d somehow appreciate this moooving rendition of his pieces. Yes, there are cows, who supply the bass notes, but throughout it is felines who star in this chorus. Naturally, as cats are the smartest (and most self-important) of domestic pets.

Composer Erik Satie. Wikipedia

Amazingly, you hear pretty much all the piece’s harmonies and striking modulations. It’s not really dumbed down. When somebody organizes, or “conducts” these miscellaneous species, hear what happens! This performance was shared by my friend Frank Stemper, an accomplished “serious” 1 composer in his own right, and a jazz pianist of note, based in Milwaukee.

The piece was originally posted by a musical mischief-maker named Florent Gyse, who is a bassist and composer and videographer, though perhaps he had help in the latter department, including producer Doug Perkins. Thanks Florent! His channel is available here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwfw6NcrTgFTLJiZGpKq3VQ

This “Cats & friends” version is followed by a superb straight rendering of the Satie pieces, performed by the pianist Olga Scheps (directly linked at top), who plays the first two pieces in a video performance. There’s another noteworthy straight interpretation of the pieces online, by Anne Queffélec (sound recording only) of all three pieces. That YouTube performance illustrated (see below the animal choir) by a painting titled “Moonlight on the Sound” by the great American Impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam.

With these pianists you hear why these three pieces are sublime, in their apparently almost artless simplicity. But they’re more than they appear to be, though ultimately it’s their spare and slightly astringent beauty that stands the test of time.

The furry choir members certainly would agree, and they weren’t born yesterday! But they’re not that old either. I rest my case, with them. However, for more insight on Satie and “Trios Gympnopedes,” proceed below the YouTube link here…

jessiemelodyworld K,” an online YouTube video channel host, posted the following extended comments with Queffélec’s piano rendition of Satie’s three famous pieces: (Jeez, all these fancy-dancy video-showoffs make a mere wordsmith like me feel like I’m puttering along in the slow lane. Oh, well. I’ll work on my pizzazz. At least I can gussy my words up with some visual borrowings.)

Watch Olga play the first two, right after the “choir,” (or watch Olga first) but here’s a direct link to that second recording by Queffélec, along with jessie’s comments below:


“* The Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist Erik Satie. These short, atmospheric pieces are written in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure.

“Collectively, the Gymnopédies are regarded as an important precursor to modern ambient music — gentle yet somewhat eccentric pieces which, when composed, defied the classical tradition.[citation needed] For instance, the first few bars of Gymnopédie No. 1 consist of an alternating progression of two major seventh chords, the first on the subdominant, G, and the second on the tonic, D.

“The melodies of the pieces use deliberate, but mild, dissonances against the harmony, producing a piquant, melancholy effect that matches the performance instructions, which are to play each piece “painfully”, “sadly” or “gravely”.

“From the second half of the 20th century on, the Gymnopédies were often erroneously described as part of Satie’s body of furniture music, perhaps because of John Cage’s interpretation of them. * Éric Alfred Leslie Satie (pronounced: [eʁik sati]) (signed his name Erik Satie after 1884) (17 May 1866, Honfleur — 1 July 1925, Paris) was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde.

“His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd. An eccentric, Satie was introduced as a “gymnopedist” in 1887, shortly before writing his most famous compositions, the Gymnopédies. Later, he also referred to himself as a “phonometrician” (meaning “someone who measures sounds”) preferring this designation to that of a “musician”, after having been called “a clumsy but subtle technician” in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911.

“In addition to his body of music, Satie also left a remarkable set of writings, having contributed work for a range of publications, from the dadaist 391 to the American culture chronicle Vanity Fair. Although in later life he prided himself on always publishing his work under his own name, in the late nineteenth century he appears to have used pseudonyms such as Virginie Lebeau and François de Paule in some of his published writings.”


1 All seriousness aside, that “serious” adjective seems in serious jeopardy, Professor Stemper.

Special thanks to jessiemelodyworld k. You can reach his channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzSqtRPV-tXhow2kIqtRcMQhttp://