ALBUM TITLE: Vienna Art Orchestra
WORKS: 20th Anniversary
PERFORMER: Matthias Rüegg (comp/cond) with Vienna Art Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: 537 096-2 (distr. Polygram)
Formed in 1977, the Art Orchestra has remained consistent in its unpredictability. Simultaneously arty and impressionistic, obscure and bombastic, humorous yet Teutonically oblique, it has assembled an impressive body of work during its twenty-year history, including Tango from Obango, From No Time to Ragtime, The Minimalism of Erik Satie, Nightride of a Lonely Saxophone Player, Blues for Brahms, Innocence of Clichés, Mozart’s Balls and European Songbook that includes extracts of works by Verdi, Schubert and Wagner.
To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, Nine Immortal Non-Evergreens for Eric Dolphy, M Concerto for Voice and Silence and Ballads, all from 1996, appear together as a set. Once again the VAO fearlessly mixes and matches elements from the European tradition of classical music, European improvised music and diverse strands of American jazz. Moving from jaw-dropping feats of technical accomplishment to studied artiness, it might appear that between these extremes lies the real VAO. But the Art Orchestra is what it is at any given moment; in Ballads it surrenders to the vocal skills of Betty Carter, Helen Merrill and others, but, equally, cannot resist the temptation to subvert them as well.
Certainly this set reveals the band’s remarkable range and while on Nine Immortal Non-Evergreens, it deals with jazz material in an idiomatically American way (yet without entirely surrendering its European heritage), M Concerto and Ballads contain moments of parody and contradiction that’s specifically VAO. And it’s here the band’s real significance lies: in broadening the expressive range of the jazz ensemble in an idiomatically European way, it offers a valid alternative to the American paradigm of jazz. SN