Vienna Art Orchestra

Suite for the Green Eighties

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It might as well be said now so the hate mail can flow fast and free: I happen to agree with music critic/composer and historian Art Lange that Mathias Rüegg, leader, composer, director, etc., of the Vienna Art Orchestra is, without question, Europe's answer to Duke Ellington at the end of the 20th century, though he clearly isn't yet in Ellington's league. With Suite for the Green Eighties, a work inspired in equal parts by the gaining of popularity and power by the Green Party in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere in Europe, and also by the classic book by Charles Reich called The Greening of America, the five-part work is a crosshatch of jazz, blues, circus music, postmodern harmonic and intervallic invention, and dance music (as in ballet). The temptation to call it a pastiche is too easy to drape over this mammoth construction of color and texture in sound. Before this suite begins -- and it is actually more like a symphony than a jazz suite -- there are three Rüegg compositions that set the audience up for the drama. There is the New Orleans jazz-flavored "Haluk," with its riveting soprano solo by Harry Sokal; the glorious Gil Evans-ish "Plädaoyer for Sir Mayor Moll," with its elegant quotation from "I Only Have Eyes for You," and microtonal flügelhorn solo by Herbert Joos, which turns the piece inside out and makes it a modal meditation on minor sevenths; and the woolly "Nanan N'Z Gang," which sounds -- in its opening measures -- like it was written in the medina in Morocco or Algeria. It eventually evolves into a post-bop modal stomp with a killer alto sax break from Wolfgang Puschnig. When the "Suite" finally begins, listeners are almost taken off guard since it sounds like a coda. Before the vibes and trumpets go into a dance of intricate counterpoint, the band plays "fliessend," smoothly and evenly, and the movement becomes almost contemplative, with the exception of the two contrapuntal instruments now playing in restrained tones. As the bop horn lines state the theme for the rest of the suite, short, choppy interludes of dissonance and even sets of quiet tone rows are inserted into the melody! Rüegg's harmonic sensibility is so developed that he has no difficulties in traversing isorhythms to get to his desired place. By the time the last movement is reached, one would swear that all elegiac notions have been left behind in order to join Buddy Rich and Count Basie in a Kansas City block party. Swinging brass, jump-start rhythms, and angular solos carry the joyous suite to its impossible ending -- in the quiet of the evening with only the feeling that something new is possible for the first time in a long, long while.

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