Michael Mantler: Live (WATT/18)


Michael Mantler

Jack Bruce vocals
Michael Mantler trumpet
Rick Fenn guitar
Don Preston synthesizers
John Greaves
bass, piano
Nick Mason drums
Recorded February 8, 1987 during the 1st International Art Rock Festival at the Kongresshalle, Frankfurt, Germany
Festival produced by Off-Tat Frankfurt with the Co-Operation of the Hessischer Rundfunk (Concept and Production: Klaus Schäffer, Peter Kemper, Ulrich Olshausen, Dieter Buroch)
Location recording by Hessischer Rundfunk
Engineer: Wolfgang Packeiser
Concert sound: Sven Persson
Mixed by Michael Mantler with assistance from Doug Epstein at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York
Produced by Michael Mantler
Release date: September 1, 1987

Recorded at the 1st International Art Rock Festival in Frankfurt, Live might just be Michael Mantler’s most overt nod to Henry Cow yet. It’s also, to my ears, the trumpeter/composer’s least cohesive album. From the opening track, which marries his fiery “Preview” with “No Answer,” we might be forgiven for thinking we’re in for an incendiary ride when vocalist Jack Bruce goes all in for his delivery of the Samuel Beckett lyric. Whereas his studio recordings often sound multiply refined, despite their sometimes-grim subject matter and atmospheres, in a live setting we get more frayed edges. This is both the album’s blessing and its curse, as the selections from Mantler’s take on Edward Gorey, The Hapless Child, leave one wishing for their original performer, Robert Wyatt. Bruce’s “The Remembered Visit” is flaccid by comparison, though he does revive some of the idiosyncratic aplomb he does best in “The Doubtful Guest” at the concert’s close.

Mantler himself, normally a pungent soloist, meanders on “For Instance” and “When I Run,” setting up journeys without apparent destinations. Having said that, I lend an ear with wonder to the three “Slow Orchestra Pieces,” without which the album might fall apart. Their archival feel, coupled with center-stage moves from Rick Fenn on guitar and Don Preston on synthesizer, make them just worth the price of admission. So listen at least for them, but save your time for the vocal pieces in original form to get their full effect.

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