Album reviews

Michael Mantler: ‘Coda – Orchestral Suites’

Michael Mantler: Coda – Orchestral Suites
(ECM. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Michael Mantler, the composer and trumpet player from Austria, has brought out two albums on the ECM label in which he looks back at and updates some of his earlier works.  The first album (also on ECM from 2014), titled The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update, presents updated versions of tracks originally recorded with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Mantler formed in New York in the 1960s with his then wife Carla Bley.

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The aim of the orchestra was to provide composed settings for key improvisers such as Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry and Larry Coryell.  The ensemble for the updated versions was the Austrian 19-piece Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band conducted by Christoph Cech, plus the radio.string.quartet.vienna and soloists Mantler himself on trumpet and Bjarne Roupé, a Swedish guitarist who has frequently worked with Mantler.

Coda also presents reworkings of earlier material of Mantler’s, but this time the compositions are taken from various earlier favourite compositions rather than one source as in the first CD, and the ensemble is a large 27-piece largely classical ensemble with a few jazz soloists.  It is also conducted by Christoph Cech.

Mantler sees himself as essentially an orchestral composer who has in recent years preferred to work with and update already existing compositions.  His writing is rich, often intense and occasionally quite dark; it is definitely on an orchestral scale, but the presence of several jazz musicians and the integration of improvised solos – some quite short, others more extensive – mean that the music develops in ways that come from jazz.

The main soloists are Bjorn Roupé and Mantler himself.  They often take quite short solos the excellence of which is brought out by the way they interact with the writing for the ensemble.  On Coda, Mantler features himself on several tracks, and it is a joy to hear his very attractive tone on the trumpet and the logical development of the solos. There are also short solos from Leo Eibensteiner on flute and Peter Tavernaro on oboe. 

It seems that the solos replace the various vocals that were on the original recordings.
The CD is a successful hybrid of jazz and classical music with the balance between the two just right, rich orchestral writing on the one hand and well integrated effective instrumental solos on the other.

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