Mulo Francel – Mountain Melody
GLM Music Records: FM262-2 . Album Review by Jane Mann)
This new album from composer and saxophonist Mulo Francel is fascinating and highly unusual. Francel grew up by the Chiemsee in Bavaria, at the foot of the Alps, and is something of a mountaineer. Over a period of several years, he has persuaded members of his ensemble Quadro Nuevo, and other musical friends, many of whom, like him, grew up surrounded by mountains, to clamber up various peaks, and to bring a musical instrument or two, and maybe some high-quality recording equipment with them. Francel explains his motives:
“Up there, civilisation is silent. No motors, no digital beeping. Sporadically the call of a mountain jackdaw. The wind as a disturbing noise in all frequency ranges. Often we had to wait for it to die down. Sometimes we caught an echo. But mostly there are no room acoustics at all. The complete openness of tonal and visual propagation.”
These thirteen high altitude recordings, made over the years on ten different peaks, supplemented where necessary in the studio, have been assembled to make Mountain Melody: Music With a Wide Perspective. The liner notes detail the unusual and broad-ranging instrumentation, interspersed with astonishing photos of the musicians in situ: Julie Fellman playing copper tube chimes and Philipp Quack with a bass balalaika on top of Mount Olympus in Greece; Evelyn Huber with her biblical harp and Baseem Darwisch with his oud on Mount Catherine in the Sinai, Egypt; and Francel himself playing soprano sax, his lower half swathed in sulphurous smoke, right on the rim of the great crater of Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands in Italy.
Some of the ascents were quite perilous, particularly the one to the top of Mount Kerkis on the island of Samos in Greece. On this expedition accordionist Andreas Hinterseher was with them. Fortunately for the group he had worked as a mountain rescuer in his youth, and was able to get them all safely down, in the dark, with scorpions scuttling about amongst the rocks. The recording achieved from this adventure is a lovely version of Ikarus’ Dream, a tune I first came across on the 2020 Quadro Nuevo CD Mare. It’s a beautiful, deceptively simple melody, the airy clarinet, gorgeously rich accordion and simple percussion recorded right there on the mountain top, at sunset, with a view over the Sea of Ikarus to Ikaria.
When I started listening, I thought I was in familiar Francel territory – lovely melodies, sensitive arrangements, impeccably performed by a large cast of extremely accomplished musicians many of whom have been playing together for more than twenty-five years – accessible agreeable jazz. But there are differences here. The tonal palette shifts quite a lot, according to the differing instrumentation much of which is location and culture-appropriate – also presumably, because of the effect of playing right there on those lofty landscapes. The addition of a single haunting blast of a Viking horn, for example, on Lofoten Arctic Waters is remarkably evocative. The sounds of oud and santur (a sort of hammered dulcimer) on the three-part Save The Earth, recorded in Egypt, dictate the feel, as does the distinctive sound of the zither-like guzheng in the Chinese piece Poet on a Mountain Top.
There is one short track Chant from the Mountain Trail which is surprising in that it includes a human voice. It is a traditional Persian song arranged by Francel and sung hauntingly by Aidin Tavakkol. There is a translation of the poetic lyrics in the liner notes. The song somehow reminded me of Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet – perhaps in the touching delivery of the singer, and in the way that it feels like a private performance. The accompaniment to this poignant solo voice is minimal, the sound of the mountain winds predominates. The following track picks up the lovely song melody as an elegant waltz, and fills it out with a sumptuous arrangement including delicate percussion and sinuous ney flute and duduk lines, the two tracks making a linked whole.
A trip up to the crater of Vulcano on the other hand is like a nod to East Coast minimalism with intertwined repetitive patterns played on flutes and clarinets in the studio, laced around the original soprano sax line played by Francel on the mountain top.
The album finishes with a trip closer to home, to the Alps. With or Without The Glacier is subtitled Ode to the dying glaciers, played on the Northern and Southern edges of the Alps. All the instruments were hefted up to the peaks for this one, including a vibraphone and a keyboard, and as the title suggests this is elegiac. It begins with a plaintive melody line, reminiscent to me of an old French song La Part a Dieu, and then expands with an exploration by each of the five splendid musicians here. Meanwhile the keyboard and vibraphone conjure up the drip, crack and tinkle of melting ice as the glaciers melt and the climate changes.
Here is a film of the band performing The Viking on a peak in Norway:
1: The Viking [Preikestolen – 606m, Norway; Kjerag – 1,084 metres altitude, Norway]
2: Lofoten Artic Waters [Himmeltindan – 962m, Lofoten Islands, Norway]
3: The Wise “Save the Earth” Part I
4: Invocation “Save the Earth” Part II
5: The 11th Commandment “Save the Earth” Part III [Mount Catherine – 2,629m, Sinai]
6: Olympic Voice
7: Rising of Collective Happie [Olympus [2,918m, Greece]
8: Poet on a Mountain Top [Great Wall of China, Beijing, Forbidden City, China]
9: Ikarus’ Dream [Kerkis 1434m, Samos Island]
10: Chant from the Mountain Trail
11: Dance of Stars [Shir Kuh – 4,055m, Iran]
12: Vulcano [Aeolian Islands];
13: With or Without the Glacier [Zugspitze – 2,962m, Germany; Monte Cevedale – 3,769m, Italia]
Mulo Francel: tenor saxophone [1, 6 – 8, 13], soprano saxophone [8, 12], c melody saxophone [10, 11], contrabass clarinet [1, 7, 12], clarinet [3 – 5, 9, 12], bass clarinet [3 – 5, 12], double-bass clarinet [3 – 5], tube chimes , water recording , sansula , mandola [10, 11], copper tube chimes [7, 10, 11], guzheng  and stone percussion [10, 11]
Andreas Binder: French horn 
Philipp Sterzer: flute , alto flute [1, 12] and bass flute 
Evelyn Huber: harp [1, 3 – 5, 10, 11], santur [3 – 5, 10, 11]
D. D. Lowka: bass [1, 3 – 5, 8 – 11], percussion [3 – 5, 8, 9], bass balalaika [6, 7], udu drum [8, 10, 11], drums  and small metal percussion [1}
Wolfgang Lohmeier: drums , Viking horn  and percussion 
Basem Darwisch: oud [3 – 5]
Rageed William: ney [3 – 6, 10, 11] and duduk [6, 7, 10, 11]
Rafat Mohammed: percussion [3 – 5]
Andreas Hinterseher: accordion [3 – 5, 8, 9 – 11, 13] and vibrandoneon 
Nicole Heartseeker: Indian bina harmonium [6, 7]
Julie Fellman: copper tube chimes 
Philipp Quack: bass balalaika [6, 7]
Ela Wallner: flute [6, 7]
Franz Heller: Hapi drum [6, 7]
Izabella Effenberg: glass harp 
Philipp Schiepek: guitar 
Daniel Nodel: violin 
Luna Lowka: flute 
Chris Gall: piano [9 – 11, 13] and frame drum 
Aidin Tavakkol: voice [10, 11]
Robert Kainar: drums 
Tim Collins: vibraphone 
Categories: Album review