Listening to Swiss trumpeter Manuel Mengis' cross-genre Gruppe 6 is to hear an intoxicating melange of musics, from bop and free-bop to skronk and groove, in which the spirit of bassist/bandleader Charles Mingus' jazz workshop lives again, recalibrated by geography and history.
Mengis' music is less intense in its passionsless tortured and confrontationalthan Mingus,' and more discursive and elliptical, but the same little-big band aesthetic, with its fractured through-arrangements, rooted in the past but nudging at the future, is present. So, too, is an easy, open-hearted embrace of a broad range of jazz and jazz-related styles, from the astringent and the cerebral to the funky and the body rockingwith Mingus' hot gospel flavors replaced by chilled and trippy electric guitar and lazily insistent jam band backbeats which morph in and out of more complex rhythms.
Like Mingus,' Mengis' music is also gorgeously lyrical. The Pond is Gruppe 6's second album, following Into The Barn (Hat Hut, 2005), and when writing for it, Mengis says that he strove for a voice less loud, more subtle and more melodic than on the first disc. Four band members are holdovers from Into The Barn, with reed player Roland Von Flue and drummer Lionel Friedli the new recruits.
Mengis' charts are characterized by regular shifts in dynamics, speeds and rhythmssome smooth and gradual, some sudden and unexpectedand snippets of melody and rhythm which are reiterated, picked apart and eventually reconstructed. The shortest track here is almost nine minutes, the two longest between sixteen and eighteen, so there is plenty of time for unhurried, suite-like development.
Mengis' writing is enhanced by a line-up of characterful soloists. Stoffner's spacey, layered-chord solos on "Hide And Seek" and "Song For Violet" stick in the mind, as do Von Flue's smoky tenor on "Furry Buddy" and Escher's skronking alto on "Tomorrow Will Be Colder." Mengis' nimble, laser-precise, skittering lyricism is compelling and delightful whenever it emerges from the ensemble.
Ultimately, however, The Pond is a composer's album. That, like the finest classic Mingus, it sounds more like an epic head arrangement, gives it added allure.
Personnel: Manuel Mengis: trumpet; Achim Escher: alto saxophone; Roland Von Flue: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Flo Stoffner: electric guitar; Marcel Stalder: electric bass; Lionel Friedli: drums.