Michael Mantler – No Answer
1974 – Watt/2
This is an odd album, and it is hard to explain, but I am going to do my best. Michael Mantler composed the music, and although he is a trumpet player, he decided not to play, just conduct. It is a trio of musicians for this date; Jack Bruce, Carla Bley, and Don Cherry. Just from that lineup, we know it is going to be weird outing, but add words by Samuel Beckett over it and you have something really unique. I had heard of Mantler because of his work with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. There is a great double album that I have that features Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, and a ton of other great musicians that maybe I will review at some point. This group is a very pared down version of that orchestra. Carla Bley and Don Cherry are legends in the creative improvisation world and their contributions to this trio album are superb. The name that surprised me was Jack Bruce. I had only known him for his work with the rock group Cream, with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. After doing some quick research, I realize I completely underestimated him. He worked with Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Frank Zappa, and tons of other great musicians over the course of his career. It’s funny how a musician can be defined by their “pop” outing. Many of these other collaborations would be more interesting to me than Cream. It is important to dive completely into an artist’s catalog before you pigeonhole them. Anyway, back to this album. Carla Bley is the star of this outing for me. She plays interesting and engaging piano phrases throughout the two sides. Her playing is creative and has such a good feel to it. I would be interested to see the compositions for this album, to see what was written out and what was improvised. I wonder how much direction was given, were whole chords written out? Or melody lines? Or was it more of a “for this section, I want…..” ? Jack Bruce takes on the vocals and bass, and asserts himself at the front of the group. Don Cherry sits in the back and plays very sparingly, which after listening to a lot of his work, is very much his style. He knows when to play, when to sit out, and exactly what notes and feel to play. Mantler chose to put together an ambitious project here, and I am glad he did. It is definitely a fun listen, but maybe not one to throw on at your next cocktail party. This one demands some serious attention.