Mira Mode Orchestra – “Restless City”


Mira Mode Orchestra - "Restless City"Led by saxophonist and composer Ede Merkel, the Mira Mode Orchestra takes a contemporary approach to the Jazz with orchestration format, yet with a menu of varied influences that differentiates itself from the pack with its unconventional approach.  The end result is something that sounds mainstream on the surface of things, but a little time spent digging into the music reveals that there’s much more substance to things.

Your album personnel:  Ede Merkel (sax, flute), Friedemann Prub (drums), Felix Otto Jacobi (bass), Eren Solak (keys), Joachim Ribbentrop (guitar), Sebastian Piskorz (trumpet), Nils Marquardt (trombone), Josefine Andronic, Raphael Grunau, Sabine Bremer, Alina Gropper, Daniel Avi Schneider, Daniela Gubatz (violins), Martin Stupka, Katja Braun, Ellen Marquardt (violas), Leonie Wagner, Benjamin Walbradt (cellos), and guests: Clara Hill (vocal), Simple One (vocal), and Jan Paul Herzer (electronics).

The ensemble comes right out the gates swinging on “Black Afghan.”  Strings, drums and bass get the pulse racing with a pronounced tempo, before electric guitar beats it down with some suppressing fire.  When the brass steps up, its to shepherd the song into a casual groove.  By now, the rhythm section and strings have calmed down considerably and fall in line.  Before long, however, strings and rhythm section turn the tables and end the song with a return to the driving tempo.  It’s a pattern the ensemble returns to frequently… returning to home after a journey to a place the opening statement never envisioned.

Title-track “Restless City” has a strong electronic bent.  Layers of keys that wrap the melody in a warm blanket, with flute adding to the flame from the background.  Guitar squirms against it with flurries of notes.  Strings and cymbal washes add to the fireside cheer of the tune.  The tempo is a peaceful drive through the countryside.  The song ends with some effects and found sounds… of people talking, an electronic sizzle and crackle… and is not at all out of place with what came before, even though divergent for all intents and purposes.  It’s part of what makes this album so engaging… the way the ensemble asserts its will over the music and makes constructions work that, on paper, might seem otherwise likely to fail.  The ensemble’s unabashed embrace of this music is clearly a big reason why they’re able to pull Restless City off.

“Dagidum” juxtaposes the rapid steps of strings and piano against the long slow strides from trumpet and trombone.  And from this clash, the ensemble meshes into yet another little groove.  And as is repeated at times throughout this album, the song’s middle section is represented by a break from form, especially via tempo.  And even, later, when the ensemble returns to home base, they do so a little faster on their feet, not as willing to decelerate to the opening tempo as they have on other album tracks.  The strings sweep in at the conclusion to finish the song off.

And the string ensemble isn’t finished there.  After a brief interlude all to themselves, they transition right into “Gently Rolling,” which features trumpet beaming proud over a pastoral landscape colored with lovely string sections.

“Glacial Moraine” begins with a little dissonance… haunting percussion, trumpet bending notes, strings a seething, whispered rage.  But this opening interlude gives way to a warm sunrise capped by sweet vocal delivery.  Vocals harmonies, long slow notes on horns, and the gentle urgency of strings… all of this gives the impression of an Efterklang tune delivered with a pop-Jazz tunefulness.  The song grows gradually more frantic as it reaches the finale, becoming increasingly diffuse, like molecules separating from one another until all form is surrendered.  And when the dust settles, strings take the song to its conclusion.

A quirky tempo dictates things on “Pommerania.”  Keys and strings and percussion play a game of double-dutch with the rhythm.  This contrasts with the album’s other vocal track, “Shade of Ivory,” which has has a pleasant ease, and a brightness that speaks of the better days of fusion.  Even when electric guitar goes off the tracks a bit, it’s nothing that risks shaking the song from its casual orbit.

The album ends with “The Story of the Fisherman.”  In some ways, it serves as an appropriate album send-off… it mixes in a bit of indie-pop, a bit of soul funk, and a bit of Jazz, and it presents the mix as an easy-peasy calm groove.  Strings mix in with the very first pronounced sign of electronics and effects.  As the song develops, it begins to sound almost as if the track is skipping… an unpleasant effect, especially on first listen, and, arguably, the album’s only real weak spot.  But the toying with effects abruptly comes to an end, and the song finishes out with keys and drums developing a nice chatter, with guitar piping in with some well-placed notes of its own.

This is one of those albums that takes a few approaches that I typically wouldn’t much warm to, but they do it well and in ways that kept me perpetually delighted and surprised.  And, so, I wanted to give it some time in the spotlight.

Released on the Double Moon Records label.

Jazz from the Berlin scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3

There’s a nifty video of the album’s final track on Youtube.  I couldn’t embed it because Youtube is sticking ads on the video, and that won’t work with my site.