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day of love
Mel Graves
Day of Love
Mutable

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If you're put off by highly conceptual or outwardly difficult art for art's sake, I advise you to stop reading now and perhaps try looking up "pop" in the Splendid search engine; the last time I checked, it returned 1,275 links, so you'll be in good company (and busy for a while). But for us troubled and seeking souls, there is the music of Mel Graves. An esoteric product of academia if there ever was one, Graves moonlights as a tenured professor at Sonora State University. Day of Love marks his attempt to write an extended song cycle about love and his wife -- but if that sounds run of the mill, then brace yourself, because it's not.

Recorded in 1996, the album is the culmination of thirty years' worth of Graves' musical exploration. Ostensibly a jazz album, the disc explores lyrical melodies and instrumental interludes for flute and bass, with rhythms influenced by Brazilian, African and Indian styles. However, perhaps the most notable influence is poet Pablo Neruda; each song is named after and constructed around a Neruda poem, with each stanza performed in a classic operatic croon.

As the songs take shape around the relatively structured poems, a disjointed atmosphere permeates the album's earlier tracks, with songs like "Morning" and "Ardonic Angela" sounding like a self-consciously "beat" art student spouting off poetry with a pensive affectation of meaning. Rather than playing with the tone of the poetry, these songs attempt to force the verse around their preconceived concepts -- and unfortunately, great art isn't always receptive to lofty reworkings. However, as the album proceeds, songs like "Body of a Woman", "Leaning Into the Afternoon" and the disc's majestic climax, "The Morning is Full", gradually come to parallel the poems; every puff of the flute and pluck of the bass could as easily be a metaphor or a rhyming couplet. You'll appreciate it not for this inter-disciplinary symmetry -- great art, after all, rarely colors within the lines -- but for the relationships it illuminates. Exploration of those concepts is, of course, purely voluntary, but well worth the effort; participative listening is rarely more satisfying.

-- John Wolfe
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