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Manu Katche: Playground (2007)

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Manu Katche: Playground How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

It's great to hear drummer Manu Katché finally given the spotlight to present his qualities as composer/bandleader. His first album—It's About Time (BMG France, 1992)—was a flop, despite the many popular names participating. Neighbourhood (ECM, 2006), on the other hand, was a work of genius, presenting Katché's best qualities as a composer, arranger and player. It put him on the jazz map as more than a great sideman, which is how he's been most often perceived.

Like Neighbourhood, Playground is fueled by the mutual respect of its participants and shaped by ECM's artistic ethos. It features saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Matthias Eick replacing Jan Garbarek and Tomasz Stanko, respectively. Regulars Marcin Wasilewski (piano) and Slawomir Kurkiewicz (double-bass) are back, and David Torn drops by with nice atmospheric guitar work on "Lo and "Song for Her. The result draws on Katché's proven strengths as a composer and instrumentalist, producing a wonderful listening experience where nuance and textural delicacy are very important.

What has remained the same is the innate lyricism of Katché's previous outing. What is different is the maturity of the compositions. Katché moves the band naturally through various tempos, with both Wasilewski and Kurkiewcz providing subtle strength and melodocism as necessary. Seim has a clear, luminous tone and a penchant for meandering, aching melodies, and his pairing with Eick works effortlessly.

There are many highlights, including "Lo," "So Groovy," "Snapshot," "Inside Game" and "Pieces of Emotion." As usual, Katché gives lots of space to his fellow players with an even stronger emphasis on group interplay this time around, in order to bring out more of his compositions' deep lyricism.

Playground is a strong record—heartfelt, often poignant, yet deeply uplifting. It's nice to hear a group breaking new ground in such a creative manner, making Playground a rewarding release with plenty of pleasure to be found.

Track Listing: Lo; Pieces of Emotion; Song for Her; So Groovy; Morning Joy; Motion; Project 58; Snapshot; Possible Thought; Inside Game; Clubbing; Song for Her, var.

Personnel: Manu Katch: drums; Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double-bass; Trygve Seim: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mathias Eick: trumpet; David Torn: guitar (1, 12).

Record Label: ECM Records

Style: Contemporary/Smooth


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