It’s doubtful there’s ever been such a magnificently ambitious debut album as this one. Composer, conductor, tenor saxophonist and vocalist Fabia Mantwill has assembled a gargantuan and diverse ensemble and delivered a major work of eclecticism and depth. The Berlin-based Mantwill recruited an array of international guest soloists including Canadian saxophonist Ben Wendel, Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren, Argentinian percussionist Marcio Doctor, and American jazz guitar superstar Kurt Rosenwinkel. She also secured the services of the Tanzanian Kid’s Choir and as a key addition to her jazz orchestra there’s a 12-piece string ensemble.
Steeped in jazz from primary school, Mantwill learned guitar, flute and piano before settling on tenor saxophone. In 2011 she studied for a BA degree at Berlin Jazz Institute and Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and in 2019 studied for a master’s degree at Hamburg University Of Music And Theatre. During her studies she was a member of the Brandenburg Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Jiggs Whigham and in 2016 she was awarded the Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Residency. In 2017 she took part in the International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Center in Canada.
In 2017 she created the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra which gave concerts in Berlin and Hamburg. She was selected to perform for the Dutch Metropole Orkest and her quintet played at Hamburg’s Elbjazz and Berlin’s prestigious A-Trane jazz club. In 2020 her orchestra played at the Jazz Baltica festival and in 2021 received the German Jazz Price for her composition Ophelia. At 15 Mantwill toured India and in subsequent years visited Africa, Europe and North and South America. These journeys have informed her music and are evident throughout the album. The European classical tradition is obvious, but equally so is the American jazz sensibility. More subtle but no less persuasive influences stem from the Indian sub-continent and Africa.
The delicate folky opener Ophelia, with conductor and composer Mantwill’s vocals dominating, gives way to the big-band jazz of Pjujeck and a muscular trombone solo from Landgren immediately followed by Rosenwinkel’s spacey, echoey guitar. Mesmeric South Indian konnakol vocalising adorns Sasa Ndio Sasa Opening before the track segues into the freewheeling Sasa Ndio Sasa proper, where the strings underpin the main theme with the Tanzanian choir backing Mantwill’s vocals before Rosenwinkel gives a masterclass in breathtaking guitar fluidity. The piece is wrapped up dramatically and satisfyingly by the whole ensemble.
Erwachen opens with elegiac strings but develops into a gentle Ellingtonian-like number with Mantwill soloing elegantly on tenor. As implied in its title, Kumbukumbu (Swahili for memory) is permeated by African rhythms featuring Doctor on percussion and Konstantin Döben on flugelhorn, the whole piece counterbalanced by the strings and horns. The brass-based contrapuntal riff of Trio.logy is augmented by strings and Daniel Buch’s meaty baritone solo. Melodie De La Riviere, by contrast, begins in classical mode. Mantwill reveals that it was composed in the Swiss village of Les-Plan-sur-Bex in March 2019 and it features Tilmann Dehnhard on alto flute and Milena Hoge on harp.
The closer, Festival At High Noon, draws together all the elements of this magical suite and is based on an event at Manamaiju, Nepal. Opening with percussion and strings, if features a spectacular viola solo from Maria Reich and builds to a crescendo, amplified by the choir, the strings bringing the number to a triumphant close. As if the music itself isn’t enough, the digipack CD or double 12” vinyl package includes a booklet with liner notes by Mantwill and elegant drawings by Italian artist Maria Vittoria Scarcia illustrating each piece. But frankly this memorable album is a thing of rare beauty and a true work of art.
(1) Ophelia;(2) Pjujeck; (1) Sasa Ndio Sasa Opening; (3) Sasa Ndio Sasa; (1) Erwachen; Kumbkumbu; Trio.Logy; Melodie De La Riviere; (4) Festival At High Noon (59.33)
(1) Mantwill (cond, v, ts); Tilmann Dehnhard (f, as); Phillip Dornbusch (ts, f, cl); Daniel Buch (bar, bcl); Felix Meyer, Konstantin Döben (t, flh); Jan Landowski (tb); David Bernds (btb, tu); Milena Hoge (hp); Hauke Renken (vib, pc); Charis Karantzas (elg): Thomas Kolarczyk (b); Marc Michel (d); Anne-Sophie Bereuter, Annabelle Dugast, Julia Czerniawska, Aaron Müller, Christina Döring, Jonathan Emilian Heck (vn); Maria Reich, Johann-Vincent Slawinski, Yağmur Atagür (vla); Liron Yariv, Tabea Sch (clo); Igor Spallati (b); plus guest soloists: Kurt Rosenwinkel (elg); Nils Landgren (tb); Ben Wendel (ts); Marcio Doctor (pc). plus Tanzanian Kids Choir. (2) as (1) add Landgren & Rosenwinkel; (3) as (1) add Rosenwinkel; (4) as (1) add Wendel. Berlin, October 2020.
XJAZZ Music, XJM21001