Michael Mantler: Cerco Un Paese Innocente (ECM 1556)

Michael Mantler
Cerco Un Paese Innocente

Mona Larsen voice
Michael Mantler trumpet
Bjarne Roupé guitar
Marianne Sørensen violin
Mette Winther viola
Gunnar Lychou viola
Helle Sørensen cello
Kim Kristensen piano
The Danish Radio Big Band
Ole Kock Hansen conductor
Recorded January 1994 at the Danish Radio, Studio 3, Copenhagen
Recording and mixing engineer: Lars Palsig
Produced by Michael Mantler

Beginning has us singing
and we sing to make an ending

Michael Mantler’s Cerco Un Paese Innocente (I search for an innocent land) pays tribute to the father of modern Italian poetry, Giuseppe Ungaretti. Subtitled “A Suite of Songs and Interludes for Voice, Untypical Big Band and Soloists,” this seamless construction feels anything but untypical in the comforting plush of its instrumentation and attention to soundscape. The present recording is also significant for bringing Copenhagen-born vocalist Mona Larsen back together with the Danish Radio Big Band, who debuted her as soloist in the seventies to wide renown. Larsen’s diction, in combination with her already broad palette, imparts life to dead limbs and electrical impulses to still hearts. Through it we know the touch of many landscapes, their peoples, their flora and fauna, reaching through our bodies toward the setting sun at our backs. This same sun warms the field’s worth of fragrance that wafts through the swell of orchestral goodness in the piece’s introduction. Yet the voice of “Girovago” (Vagrant) does not feel that touch, is forced to wander, forever a stranger, from land to land. A clarinet plays, stringing a trail of possible futures, all of which disappear into the first of five intermezzi, each an anointing of melodic oil that smacks of the perpetual. Curtains part to reveal the starlight of “Stasera” (This evening) and Larsen’s Francesca Gagnon-esque acrobatics. “Perché?” (Why?) ties an operatic ribbon around the index finger of Part 2. It is the tale of a dark heart lost in its desire to erase the scars of travel. “Sempre Notte” (Everlasting night) turns the dial further inward and walks through cascading gardens, from which hang sad and sorry tales of yesteryear like so much totora reed left to dry. The depths of “Lontano” (Distantly) evoke the poet’s blindness in a landscape of fiery hands. The music here seems to explore those sparkling pockets of air in which our dreams still breathe. Breathing, however, comes at a cost in Part 3, where the soaring orchestration of “Se Una Tua Mano” (With one hand) euphemizes the harm of curiosity trembling beneath its veneer. “Is surviving death living?” Larsen sings, prompting mental implosion through Ungaretti’s unwavering mortal concerns. The halting rhythms of “Vanità” (Vanity) further paint a world of startlement and shadows, its rubble soldered back together by the warmth of Mantler’s trumpet into “Quando Un Giorno” (When a day) and the invigorating “Le Ansie” (Fear). In these we encounter life as smoke, at once agonizing and brimming with potential. Gloom lives in these soils and nourishes the churning dramaturgy of Part 4, of which “È Senza Fiato” (Motionless) darkens like an arc of twilight, led by a shooting star of electric guitar into “Non Gridate Più” (Outcry no more). This sweeping transition rakes its fingers through silent grasses and hushes the mouths of the dead, in whom only the resolutions of “Tutto Ho Perduto” (I have lost all) continue to resound, their childhoods laid to rest by a final word.

One of your hands resists your fate,
but the other, you see, at once assures you
that you can only grasp
tatters of memory

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