Oct. 13, 2009


MINNEAPOLIS — Buckle up and get ready for an auditory adventure.

Minneapolis-based composer and performer George Maurer displays his diverse array of musical styles on his new compilation of 12 original compositions, “Songs from the Wayward Journey: The Nicollet Island Compositions Volume 1.”

It’s a journey in that Maurer traverses a myriad of musical landscapes, from bebop to ballet, across Twin Cities stages and through some heavy-duty subject matter. It’s wayward, well, because George is at the helm, and he’s had his fingers in all kinds of interesting projects over the past five years. The new CD presents some sides of Maurer’s sound you might not have heard yet – pop songs, poetry set to music, an industrial rock college football anthem, even a hint of Pink Floyd.

First and foremost, it’s a dramatic journey.

“Overall, the entire album is theatrical,” Maurer says. “Each song is connected to a commission for a stage, and connected to a story of life.”

For example, two songs were written as part of “Enticed,” a commission for Saint Paul City Ballet, and two come from “Stations of the Heart,” a song cycle commissioned by Nautilus Music-Theater that Maurer wrote with lyricist Jim Payne. It premiered in March 2009 on Theater Latte De’s Latte Dark series at the Southern Theater featuring vocalist Ann Michels and directed by Jef Hall-Flavin.

Acclaimed Twin Cities theater vocalist Dieter Bierbrauer is featured on two numbers based on the work of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and Leslie Ball of Ball’s Cabaret makes an appearance. Maurer also accompanies two up-and-coming vocal talents, jazz singer Rachel Holder and the soulful Ben Bakken (Children’s Theatre Company’s “High School Musical,” and Chanhassen Dinner Theaters’ “Altar Boyz”).

“Half of this CD wouldn’t exist without arts organizations like Saint Paul City Ballet and Nautilus Music-Theater,” Maurer says. “And those organizations wouldn’t be able to commission new music or theatrical works without the private donors who support them. To me, this release is as much a celebration of Minnesota’s thriving arts community as it is a compilation of my work.”

Maurer is no stranger to the stage, having music directed three shows in the past two years at the Chanhassen: “Respect,” “Swing” and “Altar Boyz.” He also wrote for two Ivy Award-winning shows, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s “Woman Before a Glass” featuring Sally Wingert and directed by Peter Rothstein, and Nautilus Music-Theater’s “Sister Stories,” starring Christina and Jennifer Baldwin and directed by Ben Krywosz.

At the heart of much of the CD’s drama is human interaction as the “Wayward Journey” winds through a variety of relationships, both of the spirit and of the flesh. Several of the pieces focus on relationships, be it the unrequited love on “You Don’t See Me,” the sad farewell on “When You Said Goodbye” or the spiritual questioning of “What Will You Do, God, When I Die.”

In addition, half of the CD was recorded live, so listeners can witness that dynamic relationship between the musicians. A highlight is “Drop Dead Bop,” packed with 15 — count ’em, 15 — musicians, a bop-load of notes and energy galore. Rich Manik’s manic alto sax solo alone serves up a compelling argument for the song’s title.

Many of the tracks also speak to the relationship between Maurer the composer, the music itself, the lyrics and the performers or musicians he is writing the music for, be it a lyricist and vocalist as is the case in the compositions from his “Stations of the Heart” song cycle, or a jazz group, ballet troupe — or a football team.

“As a composer, I really have to have a lot of insight into the organization I am writing for,” he explains.

Case in point: “The World in Which We Live,” written as part of Maurer’s “Enticed” commission for Saint Paul City Ballet, relates closely to what was happening in the world in 2006. “The choreographer riffed off of that,” Maurer explains. “There were a lot of short moves to the feel of the piece, too. I’d say it was our sort of way of liberating the human spirit from feeling trapped and contained in a world that seemed dark.”

He also has to understand the musicians who will be performing each piece, whether it’s Paul “Stretch” Diethelm’s raucous guitar solo on the Saint John’s football anthem or the two very different vocalists, Bakken and Holder, who perform the two very different versions of “When You Said Goodbye” that appear on the CD.

“I can honestly say I have relationships with all of the 40-plus musicians who play on the CD, and the fact that I know them and their music, and know them well, allows me to compose music that takes advantage of the strengths of the incredibly deep talent pool we have in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud areas,” Maurer says.

On “Songs from the Wayward Journey,” Maurer firmly establishes his talent for transcending his jazz and solo piano roots and traveling on a multi-textured musical path that redefines the tapestry of his trademark Pine Curtain sound.

“Songs from the Wayward Journey” is available at the Electric Fetus Minneapolis location, on https://georgemaurer.com and will be released on iTunes Nov. 1.