Michael Mantler, "Movies" (LP) - skaņuplate, 33.3 RPM, ECM Records.
After enjoying a lavish dinner with Carla Bley and her band, what could be better than watching a movie? While we may not have visuals to accompany what we hear in this case, what is a movie if not a sonic entity? Even so-called silent films are nothing without their sounds—described, implied, and visualized. Michael Mantler likewise makes action audible, laying out eight narrative sketches for a silvery quintet consisting of himself on trumpet, Bley on piano (as well as synth and tenor saxophone), Larry Coryell on guitar, Steve Swallow on electric bass, and Tony Williams on drums.
“Movie One” establishes an orchestral sound from this small group of musicians, planting feet firmly in a crisp, mineral-rich soil. Coryell makes a welcome cameo in the WATT roster, fleeting though it may be, in that he brings to the fore a depth of philosophy that transcends its own historical moment (be sure to check out his character role in “Movie Seven” as well). Williams and Swallow are a fluid rhythm section, while Bley rocks the keyboards in harmony with Mantler, whose trumpet sharpens a leading blade that cuts through “Movie Three” (which would seem to move across the same whetstone as Steve Kuhn’s Trance) and “Movie Six.”
Of especial note are “Movie Four,” for Coryell’s ricochet effect and Bley’s mechanical undercurrent, and “Movie Five,” for Swallow’s swing and Mantler’s textural skill. But the Palme d’Or goes to “Movie Two.” ECM listeners may know it from the Mantler playlist that is 2006’s Review. Blistering yet always within view of the camera, its actors punch out a tenuous beginning until it grooves. As Swallow and Williams lead the way with Mantler bringing up the rear, Coryell burns a hole in the celluloid until disbelief can no longer be suspended. Like “Movie Eight” that ends it all, it glows with mortal finality. Then again, what finality is not mortal?