Jacam Manricks: Labyrinth (2009)
It is quite rare to find an up-and-coming composer/musician such as Australian-born, New York-based reedman Jacam Manricks. A PhD-level composer at the Manhattan School of Music, who has already developed strong personal compositional skills on his sophomore release as a leader, his unique and elaborate compositions reveal a deep knowledge of the jazz bop legacy and modern 20th century music. With an exceptional talent for arranging, his compositions are intelligent and sometimes challenging, defying their exquisite clarity and emotional accessibility.
His quintet feature forward-thinking comrades Ben Monder on guitars, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morgan on acoustic bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, with a chamber orchestra added on two tracks. Manricks chose the album title to symbolize the distinct nature of his compositions: "the long and sinuous curve of the melody, in addition to the chosen harmonies, creates a mystical atmosphere, as if one were journeying through a labyrinth," he writes in the liner notes.
The opening "Portal" plays with a melody from Claude Debussy's "Syrinx for Flute," which Manricksand later Monderplays beautifully, while Sacks and Sorey expand its melodic content with complex, tough and gentle rhythms. "Micro-Gravity"'s harmonies references Arnold Schoenberg's "Third Piece," from his "Five Pieces for Orchestra," and feature Manricks' commanding alto sax work floating over an engaging pulse. Manricks creates an impression of labyrinth on the title-composition while confronting the melodic contour of the composition with a consistent rhythm of the bass and piano parts. "Move" suggests subtle dissonances within the chosen harmonies, and an organic sound due to the timbres of Monder's acoustic guitar and Manricks' soprano sax, creating a mourning feeling.
"Cloisters" is another sensitive exploration of angular and rhythmic complex melodies, evoking Manricks' awe upon visiting the ruins of Fort Tyron Park in Upper Manhattan. The peaceful yet melancholic "Aeronautics" features Manricks warm alto sound through carefully built harmonic structures and Monder's sensitive exploration of the harmonic themes. "March and Combat" is a fascinating bolero-like slow waltz that respectfully references both Gil Evans' arrangements to Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960) and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero." Manricks navigates the quintet and chamber orchestra through complex rhythms while leaving enough room for Monder, Sacks and himself to expand on the sophisticated melody of this composition. He concludes this exceptional release with the sparse "Rothko," dedicated to multiform works of the late idiosyncratic Mark Rothko. This slow and subtle composition encourages a search deeper into the music.
Manricks is a remarkable composer, and this release is a superb testimony to his capabilities.
Track Listing: Portal; Micro-Gravity; Labyrinth; Move; Cloisters; Aeronautics; March & Combat; Rothko.
Personnel: Ben Monder: electric and acoustic guitars; Jacob Sacks: piano; Thomas Morgan: acoustic bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums; Jacam Manricks: alto & soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Chamber Orchestra (2 & 7): violins: Laura Arpiainen, Ann Marie Bernmont, Kiku enomoto, Garry Ianco, Brooke Guiggins; viola: Marla Hansen; Cello: Marla Jeffers; french horn: Amie Margoles.