Albert Mangelsdorff Invites Some Friends

MANGELSDORFF-RILEY-CHERRY: I Dig It – You Dig It.1 MANGELSDORFF: My Kind of Time.2 Way Beyond Cave.3 MANGELSDORFF-ZOLLER: Outbox.4 MANGELSDORFF-KONITZ: Al-Lee.5 MANGELSDORFF-DAUNER: My Kind of Beauty6 / Albert Mangelsdorff, tbn with 1Don Cherry, tpt; 2Elvin Jones, dm; 3Karl Berger, vib; 4Attila Zoller, gtr; 5Lee Konitz, a-sax; 6Wolfgang Dauner, pn / MPS 044006737522

This 1969 album features German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff in a series of duets with various jazz musicians. Not being as familiar with the German jazz scene of the 1960s as I was with the American, and to a lesser extent the French, I can’t say that I knew who Karl Berger, Attila Zoller or Wolfgang Dauner were before hearing this album, but of course the others are all quite famous in the U.S.

I was particularly interested in hearing the opening duet with trumpeter Don Cherry, a certified member of the jazz avant-garde as one of Ornette Coleman’s bandmates. The music here is typically spacey “outside” jazz of the time, tending to ignore both bar lines and a harmonic base after they play the opening lick, and of course it is Cherry who is the more adventurous, going all over the place while Mangelsdorff tries mightily to catch up and fit in. I found it intriguing that Terry Riley, the grandfather of minimalism in classical music, is listed as one of the composers of this piece, but really have no idea what his contribution was. Perhaps in providing the little tune heard at the four-minute mark as something for them to hang onto? In any event, it’s a delightful, even humorous excursion.

Interestingly, My Kind of Time is almost as spacey a piece of music, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since Elvin Jones was the drummer with John Coltrane’s equally famous quartet. I got to see Jones in person a year or two after Trane died, and he was, to my mind. one of the two or three greatest drummers of that time (the others being Joe Morello and Buddy Rich). Here, however, Mangelsdorff seems to have more of a grip on the construction of the piece (he should; he wrote it), being able to create some interesting melodic constructions while improvising over the very basic chord pattern. Jones’ playing is extremely modern, sounding much like many of today’s drummers in the way he consistently fractures the time while still being able to “stay with” Mangelsdorff. This is a facet of his playing that, as a teenager, I wasn’t fully able to grasp when I heard him live, but his solo reminded me very much of the way he played back then.

Karl Berger was a very fluid vibes player with a good technique, but like many German jazz musicians of the 1950s and ‘60s he had some trouble really swinging. This, however, does not afflict this track, which is all about harmonic and spatial relationships, with Mangelsdorff simply inserting occasional note flurries into Berger’s constantly moving lines. It almost sounded like music written for a classical vibes player with jazz trombone obbligato, if you know what I mean. At the three-minute mark it sounds as if Berger switched to xylophone, playing very high up in the instrument’s range, but not for long. By this time, it has become clear that what Mangelsdorff is playing is more or less improvised counterpoint, and very fine improvised counterpoint at that. Being recorded at a different venue and date from the preceding tracks, the microphone placement is much closer and the sound drier, which gives an interesting perspective to the proceedings.

In Outbox Mangelsdorff is accompanied by acoustic guitarist Attila Zoller. I was vaguely familiar with the Zoller band during the 1960s but not an ardent follower. Here, it is the trombonist who is in the left-hand channel and the guitarist in the right, and for whatever reason the music is somewhat simpler in rhythm and harmony and swings a lot more. It almost sounds like the kind of thing that could have occurred from a meeting of J.J. Johnson with Barney Kessel, if you know what I mean, with Mangelsdorff playing superb staccato notes in what sounds like a bit of circular breathing to maintain an almost unbroken line. Zoller, on the other hand, mostly contributes chords, but very nice ones, later moving into single-note playing when the trombonist drops out for a few bars. At one point Mangelsdorff plays an odd repeated triplet figure, with Zoller falling in with him for a few bars.

Al-Lee features Lee Konitz, who in the beginning of the piece almost sounds as if he were playing clarinet rather than alto sax. As a graduate of both the Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus schools of jazz, Konitz certainly knew how to play unusual chords and meters, and here he and the trombonist complement rather than duel with each other. Oddly, this track just fades out quickly at the 2:44 mark…was there more in the can that they chose not to release?

The final track, My Kind of Beauty, features Wolfgang Dauner starting out playing the strings of his piano before moving to the keyboard. This, again, is really out-there kind of jazz but somewhat lacking in swing. I say “somewhat” because Mangelsdorff, playing a very relaxed and lovely melodic line, seems to be operating in his own musical universe while Dauner throws in comments and advanced chord positions by way of prodding. Eventually, Mangelsdorff falls away and allows Dauner to have the stage to himself for an extended solo built around the music of the opening bars.

I admit being mildly astonished by the advanced musical thinking and musical approach exhibited in this album. Even for 1968, and even considering the backgrounds of many of the participants, this is a stunning collection of tracks that not only shows the guests in a good light but also places Mangelsdorff among them as a peer. Very highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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