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Vince Mendoza



by Ian Mann

November 20, 2008


Colourful, lovingly textured music and a fine example of the art of the arranger

“Blauklang”-literally “Bluesound”- is the latest album from the Los Angeles based composer and arranger Vince Mendoza. Mendoza has worked extensively in both the jazz and pop fields co-operating with artists as diverse as Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell and Joe Zawinul.

The centre piece of the album is the six movement “Bluesounds” suite which was a German radio commission for the 2007 Traumzeit Festival in Duisburg. Mendoza took his inspiration from the paintings of the German artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902-68) which were exhibited at the festival, particularly the work entitled “Blauklang”.

Mendoza also drew inspiration from the works of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, particularly the famous “Kind Of Blue” album which fits neatly into the “blue” theme. Davis’ love of art , particularly the work of Picasso is an additional, less obvious factor in Mendoza’s choice.

The material on “Blauklang” includes the “Bluesound” suite plus two other Mendoza compositions “Habanera” and “Ollie Mention”. There are also versions of Davis’ “All Blues” and Evans’ “Blues For Pablo” together with an arrangement of the Catalonian folk song “La Rossinyol”.The “Bluesound” suite is a live recording made at the Traumzeit festival with the other pieces being studio items.

The lushly orchestrated music is played by a fifteen piece band, many of them ACT regulars. The horns comprise Markus Stockhausen (trumpet), Claudio Puntin, Steffen Schorn and Frank Sackenheim (reeds) plus Arkady Shilkloper (french horn) and Jon Sass (tuba). Lars Danielsson (bass) and Peter Erskine (drums) form an all star rhythm section and additional colour comes from Christopher Dell (vibes) and Ulla Van Daelen (harp). There is even a string quartet, the Red Urg 4 consisting of Christine Rox and Gerdur Gunnarsdottir (violins),Thorunn Osk Marinosdottir (viola) and Daniel Raabe (cello). The quartet are used to working in a jazz context having appeared on trumpeter Mathias Schriefl’s remarkable “Shreefpunk Plus Strings”.

Guitarist Nguyen Le is in effect the featured soloist. His guitar rings out from the richly textured backdrop with a bell like clarity, reminiscent of Pat Metheny at times. Overall however the emphasis is on ensemble playing with the string quartet fully integrated into the group sound.
The care and skill with which Mendoza has undertaken his task is immediately obvious in the rich, multi layered arrangements. The textures are lush and pastoral and although the overall mood is laid back on the whole there is still enough colour and variety to sustain the listener’s interest. Having said that there are occasions when the music runs the risk of becoming becalmed.

There is little orthodox jazz soloing as the ensemble sound is paramount but Le, Stockhausen and the reeds all shine intermittently throughout the recording. Mendoza’s arrangement of “Blues For Pablo” is excellent, however I am less keen on his version of “All Blues”- but only because I am reminded of the original. How do you improve upon perfection?

“La Rossinyol” is quietly beautiful as are Mendoza’s own “Habanera” and “Ollie Mention” . The “Bluesounds” suite maintains the mood with Stockhausen’s burnished trumpet featuring strongly. But there are also passages of more full blooded playing here, especially on the invigorating second movement and the rousing sixth movement which concludes both the live performance and the album and gives the musicians (and particularly Erskine) the opportunity to let their hair down and show their chops.

“Blauklang” is clearly a labour of love and has been warmly received by the critics. Mendoza’s colourful, lovingly textured music succeeds in it’s objectives and is a fine example of the art of the arranger.

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