Michael Mantler: CONCERTOS (ECM 2054)


Michael Mantler

Michael Mantler trumpet
Bjarne Roupé guitar
Bob Rockwell saxophone
Pedro Carneiro marimba, vibraphone
Roswell Rudd trombone
Majella Stockhausen piano
Nick Mason percussion
Kammermusikensemble Neue Musik Berlin
Roland Kluttig conductor
Recorded November 2007
Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City, NJ
RBB Radio Studio 2, Berlin
Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-Les-Fontaines

As one who grew up in the polarized Vienna music scene, journeyed at 19 to New York (where he founded the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and the WATT music label), and returned to Europe in 1991, Michael Mantler is, writes Bert Noglik in his liner notes, “truly nowhere at home, a drifter seasoned in the role of creative outsider, uniting the perspective of two continents and two cultures. He views music from the twin vantage points of the elaborated European tradition and the American rebellion in jazz—a rebellion that sought to topple every convention applicable to date.” This is Mantler’s first album of new material since 2000’s Hide and Seek and a lively testament to an ever-productive musical mind. Like the far-reaching constructions of Heiner Goebbels, Mantler never fails to work his indiscriminate way into our attention, even if his expressive quirks thrive on a rather different brand of theatricality.

The present album is a series of seven self-styled “concertos,” each scored for a different soloist along with a chamber ensemble under the direction of Roland Kluttig, whom Eberhard Weber listeners may remember from his Stages Of A Long Journey. All of the solo instruments are included (with the possible exception of the saxophone) in the ensemble at large at some point throughout the album, each surfacing like a jazz soloist in a protracted suite.

The first concerto, Trumpet, features Mantler himself as soloist. His improvisations are clear, acute, and vocal in character, acting with the confidence of a seasoned performer (somewhat ironic, given that Mantler is known for his reticence in this regard). Any agitation to be found in this piece is undercut by whimsy. Compelling Rypdal-like strains from Bjarne Roupé temper Mantler’s jagged lines while also providing a lovely segue into the guitar concerto that follows. The latter is a far more delicate piece relative to its surroundings. Brass and winds clamber for a view on the sidelines as piano and guitar frolic in the center toward a transcendent finish. Saxophone feels confined at first, but opens up as the violins gather clout. A marimba warms the air before taking center stage. MarimbaVibe is the most disturbed turn of phrase, caroming uncontrollably between disparate spheres of influence. It ends on another enigmatic note, made all the more ethereal for its indifference. Jazz Composers’ Orchestra veteran Roswell Budd is phenomenal in Trombone. His soulful sound cries with an almost street-savvy flair in the narrative of a life lived on the margins, yet which is anything but marginal in the centrality it occupies here. Its bursts of energy, always co-opted by a certain dismal zeitgeist, make for an honest though hard-to-swallow tale. Piano brings our attention to a voice that has been an integral presence for most of the album thus far. It is the instrument from which all of this music has sprung, yet which now desires its own liberation from acoustical symbiosis. It’s a rather “messy” piece, like a sharp image evenly smeared with finger-paints that attains its own abstract cohesion: an impossible kaleidoscope, devoid of symmetry. The dynamic performance here comes from Majella Stockhausen, daughter of the late Karlheinz. The final concerto, Percussion, is no less musical than its predecessors. Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason provides the beat, ringing out his snare with the conviction of a melodic battalion and bringing the album to a fine close with his delicate cymbal work.

Listening to Mantler is an experience that only grows with time. His music is fully invested in its own knowledge production and is never afraid to flaunt it in a world in which resonance has become a long-lost dream. It speaks in poetry, but moves in prose. Or is it the other way around?

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