Michael Mantler ‘Coda – Orchestra Suites’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Austrian trumpeter and contemporary composer Michael Mantler has enjoyed a rich and fruitful musical career. For over five decades his musical output has ranged from avant-garde free jazz to classical chamber music, and everything possible in between. In 2014 ECM released Mantler’s “The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update”, an album that presented updated versions of tracks originally recorded with The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra that Mantler founded in New York in the ’60s. The idea was to re-shape the iconic music and to provide composed settings for key improvisers to illuminate the music in new ways. Mantler’s latest release, “Coda”, takes this concept even further. For this recording, Mantler newly arranges and refashions music from several phases of his career into musical suites which, as on the Jazz Composer’s release, are conducted by Christoph Cech.

Whilst the large ensemble on the 2014 session was an augmented jazz big band, this release is essentially different in that the orchestra is comprised primarily of classical players, with the presence of jazz soloists, including Mantler himself on trumpet, pianist David Helbock, guitarist Bjarne Roupe and vibraphonist Maximilian Kanzler. It’s an interesting concept that has of course been tried many times before by various classical, jazz, pop and rock composers, but it does work particularly well here in the hands of the experienced genre-hopping composer Mantler.

The focus is on Mantler’s compositions premiered between 1975 and 2010, and previously recorded, in very different forms, on the WATT albums “13 & 3/4” and “Alien”, along with the ECM albums “Cerco un Paese Innocente”, Hide and Seek”, and “For Two”. The new Coda variations do take on a whole new life of their own, yet in many ways clearly mirror the original pieces, in a way that an older man looks into a mirror and sees a reflection of his much younger self staring straight back at him.

With a slowly rolling camera and an intelligent eye, Mantler thoughtfully brings the past into the present with this time-lapse, redevelopment of original ideas. “Folly Suite”, based on pieces from the 1992 album “Folly Seeing All This”, fleshes out the original string pieces with wind instruments that create sublime colours and textures that work well alongside Bjarne Roupe’s electric guitar. The guitarist is more prominent on the far-reaching “Two Thirteen Suite”, taking its nod from the composer’s collaboration with Carla Bley from 1975. Opulent and magnificent, this piece holds nothing back for the imagination. “Alien Suite” takes the trumpet/piano duets from 1985’s “Alien” featuring Don Preston, and expands the mood with Mantler’s distinctive trumpet peerlessly integrating with the evocative strings. “Cerco Suite”, adapted from 1995’s “Cerco Un Paese Innocente” and “HideSeek Suite”, based on the 2001 album “Hide and Seek” which featured the vocals of Robert Wyatt, utilise instrumentalists in place of the original vocalists, with solemnitude replaced with fortitude and its ensuing characterful ambition.

Reworking earlier compositions has been an essential part of Mantler’s modus operandi over the decades. “Coda” illuminates the composer’s music in new and exciting ways, with the classical orchestrations anchoring the music in an environment borne out of a jazz improviser’s ideology.

Mike Gates

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Michael Mantler ‘The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update’ CD (ECM) 3/5