It is difficult to imagine, given his reputation as one of the most important jazz trombonists of the past thirty or forty years, that nobody has recorded a tribute album of the tunes of the great German jazz trombonist, Albert Mangelsdorff.
That is, until now.
Lest anyone have slept during the past decades of modern jazz, Albert Mangelsdorff just happens to be the leading European jazz trombonist tracing all the way back to the 1960s.
This ambitious – some might call it audacious – project from New York-based trombonist Joe Fiedler directly confronts several of the better known of these tricky and difficult tunes, and puts his individual stamp on each one.
Fiedler is the perfect person to perform the Mangelsdorff book. As a trombonist, and an extraordinary one, Fiedler exploits Mangelsdorff’s sophisticated, complex writing, which focuses on the expansive possibilities of the horn. Fiedler has a total command of the technique of multi-phonics (the ability to play and sing a note simultaneously, leading to the illusion of self-harmonizing) that characterizes much of Mangelsdorff’s work, and like his German role model, Fiedler is a brilliant soloist in his own right, something that comes through clearly on these tracks. Too, the younger trombonist understands that the best form of flattery comes not from aping but from reinterpreting, something Fiedler is careful to do here. Finally, Fiedler studied the compositions thoroughly, and practiced extensively to meet the challenges posed by them, including jumping octaves in a single phrase, and focusing on the upper register for extended periods.
Fiedler says he was initially attracted to this project because “when I first heard Mangelsdorff’s music I was struck by Albert’s ability to seamlessly assimilate all these extended trombone techniques into his tunes without sounding ‘quirky’ or really ‘out.’” He also notes that he “shares a similar sense of drama and humor along with the use of extended trombone techniques,” all of which are evident here.
Fiedler impresses from the first cut. There are the characteristic intervallic leaps, the extensive use of multi-phonics (articulated with remarkable precision, a result of considerable practice), and some of the most impressive soloing of any trombonist in the twenty-first century. While each piece has its charms, highlights abound. The listener cannot help but be overwhelmed by how Fiedler’s mastery of multi-phonics permeates the album in a way that never reeks of showmanship or grandstanding, yet is made to appear deceptively simple.
Fiedler attributes the complexity of the compositions and the uniqueness of Mangelsdorff’s improvisational style as discouraging other trombonists from playing his tunes, yet, as Fiedler notes, the marvelous melodies are worth pursuing. “After really being taken in by all of the technical challenges present in his music, I really started digging how strong his melodies were and how they were drawn from such a wide range of influences. The fact that the tunes incorporate elements of Asian and African music along with funk, jazz, and free improvisation was very exciting to me.”
The tight, closely meshed trio Fiedler has chosen to work with is up to the demands of the tunes. Mark Ferber’s drums are a ubiquitous presence, as he navigates the tricky rhythms with panache, and John Hebert’s strong pulse on acoustic bass is an important part of the album’s success. Fiedler calls playing and recording with them the “highlight” of his musical career, and considering the quality, it is not difficult to see why.
The songs represent a cross-section of those written by Mangelsdorff through the years, all of which he performed in varied contexts. Several are among his best known, but even the ones that are less well known seem somehow familiar.
Joe Fiedler has seemingly done the impossible: He has masterminded a tribute never attempted before, and he has succeeded in making the songs his own. None of the albums Fiedler has appeared on, either as a leader or sideman, prepare the listener for this tour de force, one of the best jazz trombone albums of its time that is certain to put Fiedler’s name on the map