Michael Mantler: Coda – Orchestra Suites

Mantler revisits his earlier work but the results are uninspiring and the title seems appropriate: nothing new is suggested

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Trumpeter and composer Michael Mantler, born 1943 in Vienna, moved to America in 1962 to study at Berklee. He then moved to New York, where he worked with Cecil Taylor and co-founded the Jazz Composer’s Guild. His Jazz Composer’s Orchestra recorded its celebrated eponymous album in 1968, and Mantler played trumpet on Carla Bley’s Escalator Over The Hill.

In his notes for this recording, Mantler explains that reworking earlier compositions has long been an essential part of his approach. Thus the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update, issued in 2014, reshaped material from his classic 1960s album, while Coda rearranges music from several phases of his career into musical suites, again conducted by Christoph Cech.

In contrast to the augmented jazz ensemble on the Jazz Composers Orchestra Update, the new album features a chamber orchestra with mainly classical players, though jazz soloists include pianist David Helbock, guitarist Bjarne Roupé, and Mantler on trumpet. The album features Mantler compositions from 1975 to 2010.

The results have had considerable critical acclaim, for instance in a long review by Jason Cowley in the current issue of The Wire. Solos are mainly by Bjorn Roupé and Mantler himself, and they’re excellent. So it’s hard to say why, for this writer, the results seem underwhelming.

Maybe it’s the preponderance of classical players unused to playing with a jazz freedom. For whatever reason, the music is finely crafted but strangely unmoving. Coda seems an apt title – the album comes across as a relatively brief closing statement, that summarises an impressive career but without suggesting that the composer has anything new to say.

Best for listeners to return to Mantler’s earlier work directly, rather than in this mediated form, I’d say. 

Discography
Twothirteen Suite; Folly Suite; Alien Suite; Cerco Suite; Hideseek Suite (54.21)
Mantler (t); Daniel Riegler (tb); Simon Teurezbacher (tu); Leo Eibensteiner (f); Peter Tavernaro (o); David Lehner (cl); Fabian Rucker (bcl); Christoph Walder (frh); Joanna Lewis, Ulrike Greuter, Diane Pascal, Tomas Novak, Simon Frick, Maximilian Bratt, Magdalena Zenz, Emily Stewart (vn); Simon Schellnegger, Anna Magdalena Siakala, Daniel Moser, Tamara Stajner (vla); Asja Valcic, Arne Kircher (clo); Bjarne Roupé (g); Maximilian Kanzler (vib, mar); David Helbock (p); Tibor Kövesdi, Philipp Kienberger (b); Christoph Cech (cond). Vienna, September 2019.
ECM 0734951