THE GUARDIAN   August 4, 2011


Michael Mantler
For Two

Vienna-born composer Michael Mantler came to prominence on the American free-jazz scene in the late 1960s, with challenging music for the improv piano virtuoso Cecil Taylor. Since his return to Europe in the 1990s, however, he has favoured a territory between contemporary classical music, avant-rock and improvisation (he likes the freedom from jazz baggage that non-jazz improvisers have), sometimes using quirky singers such as Robert Wyatt and Jack Bruce. For Two is a set of 18 short pieces written for a classical pianist (Danish chamber musician Per Salo) and a jazz guitarist (the Copenhagen-based Swede Bjarne Roupé, who played on Miles Davis and Palle Mikkelborg's cult European album Aura). There are brisk and pristine piano melodies punctuated by echoing guitar chords, sprawling, low-end phrases echoed or challenged by Roupé's weaving ascents, whimsical treble themes with humming electric undercurrents, and occasional episodes close to unison playing. The jostling Duet Seven and the stuttering piano against singing long lines on Eight show how sympathetic the partnership is - as do the dark and prowling Thirteen, the rumbling Seventeen, and several undulating, slow tone poems wreathing through the session. It's contemporary chamber music with improv input rather than jazz, but Mantler is a composer of pungent melodies who welcomes their manipulation at the hands of improvisers.

- John Fordham