As a founder of the Jazz Composers Orchestra, charter member of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and a frequent collaborator with composer and wife Carla Bley, Austrian-born Michael Mantler has served as catalyst to many important avant-garde events over the years, even if his own musical message skirts just under the radar of conventional audiences. Among Mantler’s most vital works are two fusion-drenched productions just recently compiled on disc and released here in the U.S. for the first time. To put 1977’s Movies into context bear in mind that jazz at that time had run its popular course and commercial banality was the norm, yet Mantler’s trumpet speaks in Milesian tones, with guitarist Larry Coryell and drummer Tony Williams unleashed in a strident setting that balances introspective moods with more incendiary moments.
Picking things up three years later, More Movies is decidedly less dramatic due to a change in personnel, with Coryell’s electrifying sting giving way to the more tempered approach of Philip Catherine. Still, this work is as focused and harmonious as Movies is visceral and spontaneous, making the most of Mantler’s quirky originals. Whether you call it fusion or jazz-rock, this reissue brings to light music that bridges the gap between mainstream and contemporary sensibilities.