"Piano Noir" From Newvelle Features in Its Gatefold a Douglas Kennedy Short Story

Novelist Douglas Kennedy described himself as a "jazz junkie" in a 2016 New York Times profile. After reading it, Newvelle Records co-founder Elan Mehler got in touch. Kennedy quickly responded.

Following a breakfast meeting Kennedy agreed to write for Newvelle a short story. It's a gatefolded page turner that of course involves jazz as well as mystery, murder and sexual mayhem. It's also in places funny and in others tongue-in-cheek shocking. The protagonist is a failed jazz pianist who fancied himself the next Bill Evans. You'll have to get the album Piano Noir (Newvelle NV101LP) to read the rest of the wickedly imaginative plot twisting tale.

After reading it, so the story goes on the company's website, Newvelle co-founder Jean-Christophe Morisseau decided it should be framed in music. I'm not sure what else a record label that releases jazz albums might do with such a story, or why Kennedy would volunteer to write it for any other reason, but that's not my business.

Label co-founder and pianist/composer Mehler set about composing and producing an album of songs that may or may not have been written as the literal read along soundtrack to Douglas's story, but like "The Wizard of Oz" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". You could read and enjoy the story in silence and listen to the record without reading, though consuming both simultaneously produced a movie-like experience.

So, yes Douglas's story is "noir-ish" and Mehler's music is "noir-ish" as is the handsome black and white night time city skyline artwork. There's the be-bop, the smoky sultry sax, the cool muted trumpet, hard-edged regret, fast-paced chase scenes and many other familiar noir musical gestures and leitmotifs all expressed without cliché. This set is as well presented as Charlie Haden's noir-themed Quartet West albums and that's saying a great deal.

Mehler, who wrote and arranged all of the music, brought into the studio musicians Michael Blake, Jason Palmer, Simón Willson and Dor Herskovits. The evocative artwork by Newvelle's season 3 collaborators Case Simmons and Austin Lynch, completes this well-considered, unique project. Douglas's story is a gas. I read it more than a few times both for enjoyment and to examine the threads within the cloth. Of course the sound recorded and mixed by Newvelle's "house" engineer Marc Urselli is warm and as "tape like"as digits get. This one sounds particularly warm, in an appropriately noir-ish way.

Getting a copy of this limited edition record will cost you a Newvelle season's pass. That is, you have to subscribe to a season's worth of records, which means buying any season's box set. Reviews of some of the label's albums can be found on this site. The offer is good through the end of January. For more information visit Newvelle Records.

elanmehler's picture

Probably bad form to be the first commenter on a review of your work but... Thanks Michael! Just to clear up why we asked for the story in the first place. It was originally going to run in our second season of records, one chapter for each record, six chapters in total. But after reading the story we decided it needed a separate musical frame to match the pitch of the story...

capri345's picture

So which season includes this release? I cannot see it in any season release per website. Very interested!