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Jim Manley: Brass Poison

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Mythology and its partners—history and literature—are replete with accounts of poisonings of all kinds; romantic, political, and those unfortunately accidental. Most of these tales culminate with unhappy, tragic endings. Someone usually "gets it" in the end.

With Brass Poison, star trumpeter Jim Manley shrewdly plays title tongue-in-cheek, and delivers a supremely enjoyable and seductively cooking rocktail. Following up on his fine Eight (Victoria, 2008), Manley and his St. Louis- based crew grab hold of a handful of selections from days gone by and polish them anew with some terrific, high-energy playing. There's not only top talent displayed here, but also pure musical fun. Nothing is taken too seriously, except musicianship, of course, making Brass Poison work terrifically.

As mentioned in the liner notes, some of the tunes here originally did not lend themselves to jazz or commercial trumpeting. Some were Top 40 Pop Chart hits from the '60s, '70s, and later. Reworking them and giving each a fresh approach, Manley and team sweetly "poison." Unlike sterile elevator music pop covers or smooth jazz throwbacks, Brass Poison takes these pop standards and overlays superb arrangements, orchestrations and first class playing. Incorporating a few jazz selections ("Well You Needn't," "Blues for Miles") to the wizard's brew adds to the display of Manley and his men's versatility.

As a player who has made his bones dwelling in the trumpet's altissimo register, Manley displays wonderful musicianship across the instruments' range on both trumpet and flugelhorn. In addition to his Maynard Ferguson-like scream chops, Manley's flugelhorn playing is very expressive ("Rocket Man") and his ensemble leadership is excellent, as is the high energy feeling to the ensemble. "Soul Makossa" and "It's Your Thing" not only kick, but move butt. When Manley screams and spews fire, he pulls the ensemble enthusiastically along and they willingly respond with vigor.

There's somewhat of a live lounge act or stage performance feeling here, but that seems to make it all work even more effectively. It's a fun session with no superficiality or pretense: what you hear is what you get. And, there's a sense of surprise as the oldies are served up. To Manley's and the producers' credit, there's no tendency to take what are simple selections and convert them into faux masterpieces. What results is a fresh look at some old friends.

Trombonist Jim Owens sparkles on his solos and saxophonists Larry Johnson (whose CD Circles (Victoria—2010) was also a fine effort), Jason Swagler, Mike Fernandez, and Joe Bayer stretch out nicely and the terrific rhythm section prods, funks it up and poison-pricks along, with great flair. To paraphrase another Top 40 hit, Brass Poison "Kills Softly with His Song." It's a very fun—and highly musical—way to go. Salud! Drink up.

Track Listing: Go Back Home; Rocket Man; Soul Makossa; Seven Days; It's Your Thing; Santa Cruzin'; Well You Needn't; Spooky; Brass Poison; Rocket; Blues for Miles; I Feel the Earth Move; Grazin' in the Grass; Last Night.

Personnel: Jim Manley: trumpet; Frank Goessler: trumpet; Dan Smith: trumpet; Jason Swagler: alto saxophone; Joe Bayer: alto saxophone (8); Mike Fernandez: soprano saxophone (6); Larry Johnson: tenor saxophone; Aaron Lehde: baritone saxophone; Jim Owens: trombone; Jim Owens: piano; Jim Owens Organ; Greg Trampe: organ;; Arthur Toney: keyboard (7.13); Tony Esterly: steel guitar; Tony Esterly: pedal guitar; Greg Trampe: guitar; Greg Trampe: strings; Ernie Isley: rhythm guitar (5); Ernie Isley: lead guitar (5); Marc Torlina: bass; Brett, "The Boss," Voelker: drums; Scott "White Bread" Colier: percussion.

Title: Brass Poison | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Victoria

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