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