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

michael-mantlerIn 1968 arranger, composer and conductor Michael Mantler assembled one of the most creative and inventive line-ups of jazz musicians imaginable and these included among others tenorist Gato Barbieri, trumpeter Don Cherry, guitarist Larry Coryell, multi-reedist Pharoah Sanders and pianist Cecil Taylor. Collectively they recorded a memorable album together and then a year later performed a live concert in New York. To celebrate the anniversary of these collaborations, Michael Mantler and Manfred Eicher were inspired to revisit the music with both jazz and classical musicians. While it would be impossible to reproduce the sheer magic of the original musicians, Mantler has done a pretty good job of recreating that sound in a modern context while adding something new in the process. Pieces vary between classical and jazz and this reflects Mantler’s own wide-ranging influences that starts off with Evans, Ellington, Mingus and Russell and then extends to Bartok, Messaien, Stravinsky and Varese. It is the classical element that is in the ascendancy on ‘Update Nine’ with something of an oriental feel created by the Radio String Quartet of Vienna while the previous piece, ‘Update Eight, is noteworthy for some fiery tenor soloing from Harry Sokal. Jazz-rock hues appear on ‘Update Eleven’ with the use of guitar. Austrian born Mantler was initially a trumpeter in his teens and studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music during the early 1960s and then settled in New York from 1964 onwards. He became exposed to newer sounds while touring around Europe in 1965-66 with Carla Bley and then with the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra. Subsequently Mantler began recording, first of all for the Watt label and then for ECM. This is by no means easy music to negotiate and it is dense in parts. That said, it is a courageous and laudable effort on Mantler’s part to even attempt this and there is some inspiring music to savour within. The lengthy interview reproduced in the inner sleeve notes give some idea of the degree of intensity involved in the original recording and will make for a fascinating comparison for those fans of improvised music who heard this first time round.

Tim Stenhouse