Exploring Christof Mahnig’s Red Carpet

Red Carpet001

RED CARPET / MAHNIG: Eric’s Breakfast. Zu neuen Ufern. Erst die Arbeit, dann. Vergnügen. Twilight. Three Pictures. 135495. Paulina’s Waltz. A Piece of Cake / Christof Mahnig, tpt/fl-hn/pic-tpt and Die Abmahnung: Laurent Méteau, gtr; Rafael Jerjen, bs; Emanuel Künzl, dm / Leo Records LR 854

Christof Mahnig, an avant-garde jazz trumpeter and composer, presents here a program of originals with his quartet, Die Abmahnung. Judging from this CD, his music employs a combination of long lines from his instrument against which the bass and drums play counter-figures as the spirit moves them, but what I found interesting—at least in the first track—was how much Mahnig uses techniques of the old growl trumpeters of the past such as Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams. These are sounds that rarely, if ever, emerge from modern trumpeters’ horns. Using an old-fashioned plunger mute, Mahnig growls and wah-wahs his way through his solos, which, oddly enough, have a lyrical quality about them that is also quite different from many avant-gardists. This gives his music a lyrical quality and, at least in Eric’s Breakfast, it also has a definable 4/4 jazz beat. The only thing that annoyed me was guitarist Laurent Méteau’s proclivity towards playing what sounded to me like rock music licks. Rock music has absolutely no place in a musical environment such as this.

Also in that first track, I was surprised to hear Mahnig playing a mostly definable melody, another trait that is not normally heard in experimental jazz nowadays. Nor is this confined to the first track; the second, Zu neuen Ufern, is set to a syncopated shuffle rhythm played by the guitar while Mahnig again plays a long-lined melody that is tonal and attractive. My heavens, he needs to turn in his avant-garde credentials! In this piece, Méteau plays his guitar more in a sort of “ambient-rock” style, not too offensive but, still, rock. Erst die Arbeit, dann. Played at a medium tempo, has a strange, loping sort of beat against a cute melodic line played by the leader while drummer Rafael Jerjen breaks up the rhythm behind him. When Méteau enters, it is to play counter-figures in a bitonal manner in a different rhythm, and bassist Jerjen then pulls the rhythm further apart with his own solo. It’s a curious form musical deconstruction. Eventually the guitarist resumes a regular pulse and Mahnig tries to re-establish the theme, but eventually just give up and ends it.

Twilight begins ominously with the bass playing slow, low figures against soft, ominous drumming. When Mahnig enters, he is playing long notes with a straight cup mute while Méteau creates an equally ominous feeling with alternate long notes below him. Eventually he falls away, leaving just the bass playing repeated low Ds against the eerie guitar line, then re-enters with the same slow, sad melody. A very strange piece!

We return to something like a regular rhythm in Three Pictures, but in this one Mahnig created a piece in which the rhythm seems to get stuck, like a phonograph record with a stuck groove. The guitar plays a slow, strange solo against the double-time bass and shuffle beat of the drums. The trumpet re-enters to join the guitar in playing slow lines, but the latter breaks off to play edgy chords while the rhythmic complexity increases. Eventually we just hear the guitar, alone, playing a strange repeated modal riff, then just the trumpet playing a staccato lick against which the bass and drums roil against it. But then, if you can imagine it, things get even more complex and weird. Another strange piece.

13495 is a very slow, moody piece, featuring a long-lined melody played by the leader against soft guitar playing in the opening. The bass eventually enters playing more rhythmic figures in double-time against them, then cymbal washes from the drums. Paulina’s Waltz is more of a slow, sad dance than a happy one; despite a melody line in the major, the background is restless and the chord changes are unusual. The guitar plays a syncopated figure against the beat of 3 and things slowly but surely become more complex. In this one, Mehnig plays a fully developed improvisation, something he more or less stayed away from on previous tracks.

The last track, A Piece of Cake, opens with a brief, staccato lick on the trumpet with solo bass interjections; this moves into a trumpet-bass duet, into which the cymbals eventually enter, then we get an uptempo 4 while things continue to cook. This then develops into a really swinging piece with Mahnig’s little melody the running thread that holds the whole together. We then fall away to just the drums, after which the guitar plays its own repeated licks on the backbeat. Mahnig comes back in on trumpet to close things out.

No two ways about it, Red Carpet is a very strange but really wonderful album. Five stars!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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