Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Miniature Chamber Music of Olivier Manchon

Orchestre de Chambre Miniature—Volume 1
By Olivier Manchon

His credits include work with the indie bands My Brightest Diamond and Clare and the Reasons, as well as the pit orchestra for the hit Broadway alt rock musical Spring Awakening, yet his latest CD is a fusion of jazz and classical forms that would probably bring a smile to the late great Third Stream composer John Lewis. Indeed, Manchon gets a full rich sound from his string quartet augmented by several special guest soloists on Orchestre de Chambre Miniature—Volume 1, which releases today in America.

Right from the first strains of “Breakfast Queen,” the driving nature of Manchon’s string arrangements is immediately audible. It is clear the OCM will not be playing warmed over covers of “Pachelbel’s Canon.” The quartet, comprising the leader on violin, his Spring Awakening pit-mate Hiroko Taguchi on viola, Christopher Hoffman on cello, and Alan Hampton on bass, shows a remarkable facility for the darting and roiling introduction, but turn on a dime to provide a lushly supportive accompaniment for guest soloist John Ellis on tenor saxophone.

There is definitely a romantic quality to Manchon’s music, perhaps best heard on the explicitly nostalgic “Memoires,” perfectly marrying the elegance of the string quartet with the yearning sound of Gregoire Maret’s harmonica. It is a lovely track, similar in vibe to some of the Quincy Jones charts featuring Toots Thielemans, yet more classically-oriented. In a radical shift in tone, the following “Just a Second” is distinguished by its dark tonal hues and a plaintive solo from Ellis on bass clarinet that approaches Dolphyesque “out” territory.

While Manchon originals account for three quarters of the OCM program, cellist Hoffman also contributed the intriguing “The Hanged Man,” which evolves out of a minimalist prelude into a striking (and quite catchy) melody, providing a launching pad for a dramatically eloquent tenor solo from Ellis. Fittingly, it ends on a stately Continental note with a sophisticated yet playful rendition of Sibelius’s “Valse Trieste.”

Throughout OCM, Manchon varies the mood nicely, creating a richly textured musical tapestry, anchored by the tightly synchronized but still swinging ensemble work of the string quartet, which presumably we can look forward to hearing more from, since the “Volume 1” clearly implies future installments to come. Enthusiastically recommended, OCM is a hip and urbane dialogue between jazz and classical that deserves attention from both camps.

(Photo Credit: Murat Eyuboglu)