The music of Olivier Manchon is best reserved for very early in the morning or very late at night, in those quiet moments when the air is still. It is a medley of opposites: all at once light and delicate, and murky and deep, filled with the dramatics of a major orchestra, but in fact, quite the opposite. With Orchestre de Chambre Miniature - Volume 1, which releases February 9 on ObliqSound, the French composer presents his miniature orchestra of five musicians - rather, an orchestra for a very tiny room or chamber. Manchon creates a cinematic narrative of jazz and classical music performed on strings and woodwinds, written especially for a select group of friends culled from the best of the jazz, indie rock, and classical realms.
On first listen, the orchestra may be hard to file and classify, both for the diverse influences heard in the music and also because it is in reality, a variation on a string quartet. After all, with Manchon, things are not quite what they appear. An acoustic bass replaces the second violin of a standard string quartet, and each song also features one woodwind instrument, transforming the sound.
The choice of the ensemble cast says a lot in itself. Manchon selected Hiroko Taguchi, a true Juilliard prodigy on viola, for her understanding of the rigor and precision required by classical chamber music, which she has frequently proven by playing for everyone from Harry Connick, Jr., to U2 to the Dixie Chicks. Alan Hampton, the jazz bass player who has played with everyone in the jazz universe, as Manchon puts it, was also essential for the updated quartet. Christopher Hoffman, a cellist who has played with assorted masters of their craft from Henry Threadgill, Marianne Faithful, Devotchka and Ryan Adams, was perfect, for moments where I wanted the music to seem written but be improvised, said Manchon. Straight from the vibrant world of jazz, John Ellis, on saxophone and clarinet, brought a special tone, sense of time and personal phrasing, complemented by Hideaki Aomori, whose exceptional sound on clarinet was so different from Ellis's that it didn't matter that they shared the same instrument. Last, but not least, close friend Gregoire Maret, the jazz harmonica phenom most known for his work with Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny, flits in to provide just the right delicate touch for a single song. In brief, it is an accomplished team whose unpredictable commonalities and differences lend an exciting, indefinable sound.