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By Uri Hornstein
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Christian Muthspiel - Octet Ost II: Indirect View Of Beauty (1994)

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A Darker Shade Of Blue

Here’s an international treat featuring improvising musicians from Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Russia, and Bulgaria.

AMG Review
by Steve Loewy

This recording comes with an interesting history. After the fall of Communism in the late ’80s, Austrian trombonist Christian Muthspiel decided to form an octet with a player from each of the former Warsaw Pact countries. While over time new players were substituted and the geographic concept was necessarily altered, the first manifestation of the band is represented on this recording, which was originally released in 1992 on the tiny Amadeo label. Several of the names appearing here have since reached at least semi-stardom within the small world of free improvisation, although at the time of recording most were relatively unknown in the West, a major exception being trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. The recording works on several levels. First of all, Muthspiel’s compositional skills fully utilize the capacities of the soloists and just as importantly provide the dense and suspenseful underbrush and joie de vivre that give a sense of completeness to the many tracks. Muthspiel intersperses what he calls “Interludes” (usually lasting a minute or two and often featuring the elastic voice of Sainkho Namtchylak) between the lengthier complex arrangements of the full group. Surprises abound, as Stanko shows a much more aggressive and far less minimalist style than he was to later cultivate. Even Namtchylak, about to soar career-wise in the 1990s, displays a somewhat more refined approach than what she later became known for. Klaus Koch, too, later developed into a major figure in European jazz, and shows major promise here. Namtchylak and Muthspiel are given substantial solo space, with the unsung trombonist, in particular, providing some very fine and sophisticated blowing. There are many significant moments of enormous emotional impact, and this small-label release should not be overlooked: It is a sleeper waiting to be discovered.

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