MICHAEL MANTLER – The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update

Album: The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update

Artist: Michael Mantler

Label: ECM

Release Date: November 24, 2015

Michael Mantler 11-24



In 1968, trumpeter Michael Mantler released The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, an album that attempted to bridge the gap between the formal composition he’d studied at university in both the U.S. and his native Vienna and the free jazz he’d found most exciting when he came to the States. By pairing the era’s top improvisers with an orchestra, which he conducted himself rather than play his horn, Mantler created an album that helped push jazz in new directions and is largely considered a seminal work today.

Forty-plus years later, while in the midst of digitizing the original scores, Mantler decided the music not only still held up, but could use a refresh – or, as he puts in the title, an update. Replacing the big name soloists that appeared on the original (Pharoah Sanders, Larry Coryell, Cecil Taylor, Gato Barbieri) with newcomers and European musicians with whom he’s worked since returning to Austria, Mantler has tightened up the score, giving the soloists more structure to adhere to and stricter bounds for improvisation..

Working with Vienna’s Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band, guitarist Bjarne Roupé and the amplified string ensemble radio.string.quartet.vienna, Mantler designs music that’s the orchestral equivalent of an electric guitarist playing through a compression pedal: energy and power roiling within very tight borders. There’s no chaos here – the improv leans more toward simmer than boil, as Mantler’s score and the big band’s arrangements keep empty space minimal and time limits imposed. Far from restricting the soloists’ creativity, it focuses it – whether it’s Roupé, pianist David Helbock, the string quartet (listed as a soloist en masse) or Mantler himself (uncasing his horn this time out), the musicians make every note count. Mantler’s melodies avoid easy hooks and go more for atmosphere, but not in the sense of becoming ephemeral – instead the pieces flow, unfolding their musicality in their own time instead of rushing to get anywhere.

“Update Six,” for example, starts quietly, with brooding piano and Mantler’s probing trumpet, before the horns slowly start coming in and drummer Lukas Knöfler stabs his accents underneath – it’s like soundtrack music for a particularly gripping film noir. “Update Twelve,” a tale told in three parts, pushes composer and musicians to their ultimate expression, ebbing and flowing around the melodies and masterfully manipulating the dynamics to create tension and release without resorting to clichéd crescendos and diminuendos.

Though the mere act of this “update” begs comparison to the first version, Mantler uses four decades of maturity and technical advancement to make genuinely new artistry out of the original classic. The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update may not take jazz to new places the way the original did, but it’s a strong work in its own right, worthy of adding to any adventurous fan’s collection.

DOWNLOAD: “Update Twelve (Pts. 1, 2 and 3),” “Update Six,” “Update One”


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