Olivier Manchon – Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, Vol. 1 (2010)

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3-D is the big thing in movies right now. Tons of special effects. Tons of computer-generated stuff. The Luddite in me hesitates to refer to any of this as ‘film’ anymore. This isn’t to say that it’s all intrinsically bad material. It’s just not for me. I prefer entertainment that gets my brain-parts going just enough to kick off extensions of the presented idea.

To use a slightly bizarre piece of music as an example, Juan García Esquivel (the composer, not the guy who makes cool shoes that I cannot afford … that would be George Esquivel) put out a record called See It In Sound (allowed to sit in the vault for nearly 40 years after its recording in 1960 … shame on you RCA) that had a soundscape arrangement of “Brazil,” presented as a series of different bands playing the song as a person travels between venues on foot and via taxi cab. Such a clever idea, one that produces a lot of mental imaginary. That’s my idea of a good musical time.

Lucky for Olivier Manchon that his record label is not RCA but the far more forward-thinking ObliqSound. Lucky for our ears too. Manchon’s music feels like a kindred spirit to Esquivel’s, with his mini-orchestra producing vignettes that evoke mystery, romance, fear, and whimsy. Along with Manchon’s violin, the ensemble features viola, cello, double bass, as well as various combinations of clarinet, tenor sax, bass clarinet, piano, and harmonica.

You know that cliché about music being written for a film that doesn’t exist yet? An imaginary film? Forget it. The film would get in the way here.

It’s true. Listen to “Memoires,” which features the harmonica of Gregoire Maret. It’s a searching tune that has the strings lofted in support and light counterpoint to Maret’s unspooling story. By the time Maret comes back around to restate the main theme, the strings have seemingly doubled in enthusiasm, as if a protagonist has found an answer. Beautiful stuff.

But then a tension-filled piano ostinato brings shadows to the opening of “Just A Second,” followed by uncertain violin, viola and clarinet. Just as the strings hit their peak of brood, a bass clarinet drops in and explodes with anger. It’s shattering and incredibly effective. And to take ‘shattering’ one step farther, there’s “Feline Leukemia,” which would have been sad enough on its own, the title adding meaning and weight.

My favorite composition is the swaggering “The Hanged Man,” which takes flight as a scattered collection of busted pizzicato and clacking valves, giving way to a lopsided waltz. It’s hard to tell if it’s funny or serious but heck, more than half of life is like that, so I’m not sweating the details.

The music of Olivier Manchon is unusual in that it displays such a far-reaching vision. Equivel without the kitsch. It’s a good thing his label has decided that 30 years would be too long of a wait.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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