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Jim Manley is an impressive trumpeter (and pianist), as he proved on an earlier album, Splendor in the Brass, and his sidemen are no doubt talented musicians as well, but what they have conspired to produce on Alter Ego is surely aimed at a generation younger than my own, people who grew up listening to MTV, rock, "alternative bands, and all manner of electronic gadgetry, not to mention smooth jazz.
Whenever I see the term "programming next to a musician's name, it gives me pause. What it usually means is "I'm going to bowl you over with special effects, as Hollywood loves to do, thus diverting your mind and attention from the substance of the music itself. That's certainly the case here, as Manley uses overdubbing, echo chamber effects, and all manner of synthetic components to help create whatever mood he and his colleagues are seeking. They do it well, but that's beside the point. What is important is the amount and quality of jazz on offer, and while there a sprinkling, even that is largely submerged beneath an unremitting wave of electronic contrivances.
Manley wrote every number save Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground, and everything seems inflexibly bound by a monotonous thread of sameness. Even "Memphis doesn't fare well in Manley's cutesy arrangement. This is clearly not an album for the hard-core jazz enthusiast. If, on the other hand, the enterprise is aimed toward the smooth jazz market, as it seems to be, Manley may well strike gold (or platinum) with one or more of these tunes. I wish him well, but would caution those who favor bona fide jazz to stay well clear of Manley's Alter Ego.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.