The concept that animates the Vienna Art Orchestra’s Artistry in Rhythm
is fifteen variations on a single tempo dedicated to as many European capital cities. It’s an intriguing idea, but intriguing ideas are sometimes more successful on paper than in practice. In this case we have a rather mixed bag with some high spots and others not quite as high. The European Suite
was written by composer / arranger and VAO leader Mathias Rüegg and is performed seamlessly in concert; that is to say, there are no pauses between any of its fifteen themes (which together run for nearly seventy–seven minutes). And before anyone asks, no, I am not a musician and don’t know what the single tempo alluded to may be (almost everything sounds like 4–4 to me, a deficiency that doesn’t seem to impede my ability to evaluate the music itself). A word first about the orchestra, which is composed of world–class musicians from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Poland, Russia, France and the U.S. who have no trouble unraveling Rüegg’s knotty charts (a handful of which actually swing). Although the composer appends an amusing name to each of the suite’s movements, the humor more or less ends there — the music is far more somber than cheerful with long periods of cloudiness redeemed by brief glimpses of the sun. The audience, which acknowledges the end of each section with polite applause, should be applauded by the orchestra for its remarkable endurance (the expansive work includes no intermission or restroom breaks). The suite opens well with “Graffiti in Stockholm” (nice uncredited trombone solo, as there is also on “Roma Roams”) and French vibraphonist Franck Tortiller enlivens “Moony Paris on the Run” before things begin to slide downhill in “Dublin.” The tenor soloist on “Copenhagen’s Mermaid Heart” (Andy Scherrer?) furnishes one of the album’s highlights, as does the trumpet overseer on “Lisboa Reverie.” While none of the soloists is credited, we can say with assurance that guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel is front and center on “Hangin’ Out in Den Haag!,” French horn player Tom Varner on “Bruxelles Ma Belle,” baritone saxophonist Herwig Gradischnig on “Helsinki Sinking in an Inky Light.” There’s not much else to say except that any relation between Rüegg’s suite and Stan Kenton’s Artistry in Rhythm
is positively ludicrous.
Contact:TCB Music SA, Grand’ Rue 92 / 5, P. O. Box 1610, Montreux 1, Switzerland. Vienna Art Orchestra, Westbahnstrasse 10 / 5, A–1070, Vienna, Austria; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.vao.co.at