Now based in California, composer and multi-reed whiz Jacam Manricks
describes himself as "Sri Lankan- Portuguese Australian-born." In other words he's the virtual embodiment of a world citizen. When it comes to his music, Manricks is unafraid to draw from pretty much any source for inspiration. The wryly-titled Chamber Jazz
comprises eight Manricks originals plus a cover of Miles Davis
' "Deception" and an adaptation of Jean Sibelius
' "En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa" (I Seek No Power or Glory). Despite the repeated references to classical music (the Sibelius tune and another one titled "Beethoven"), there's not much on Chamber Jazz
that one would actually consider Chamber Jazz. Thanks in no small part to the perpetually swinging, forward-leaning energy of his rhythm section, Manricks' music comes across as raw, sinewy and soulful modern jazz with brains. Sure, there's a tune titled "ECMish" (a descriptor this author is guilty of over-using), but if you listen it's apparent that the reference to ECM here is purely tongue-in-cheek.
It's doubly ironic that Manricks recorded a very impressive album with a chamber orchestra titled Labyrinth
(Manricks Music Records, 2009), to which the title of the present album might've actually applied. There are some multi-reed overdubs, and a smattering of Fender Rhodes here and there, but the music on Chamber Jazz
is, for the most part, much more stripped down and obviously part of the jazz continuum than that on Labyrinth
. A few tracks here, nevertheless, hearken back to the music on that previous recording. "Mood Swing" is a complex, multi-sectioned piece framed by Ari Hoenig
's somewhat martial-sounding drums and a twisting, arching chord progression which provides Manricks ample room to improvise like a madman on his primary axe: the alto saxophone. Propelled by an odd-metered ostinato, "Beethoven" has a dark urgency and somewhat more of an ECM-like feel than the pretty, pastoral "ECMish." By contrast, "Forbidden Fruit" is all accents played in tutti
by the quartet. Then, bassist Gianluca Renzi
digs deep for a brief solo before Hoenig gets the green light to go all funky under the leader's burning alto. Kevin Hays lays out completely on a few tracks. "Wandina" is a complicated math-jazz piece; a bit like the stuff Steve Lehman
is doing with his trio these days. Both "Cry" and "Cloud Nine" are a driving medium-up tunes with complicated accent-ridden heads that make the most of the chemistry between Hoenig and Manricks.
The more conventional pieces on Chamber Jazz
are no less refreshing. The title of "Thread" might refer to the way that Manricks weaves the melody through the composition's rhythmic nuances. It's an up-tempo piece blessed by Hoenig's ceaselessly imaginative drumming and a characteristically lush solo by Hays. The Sibelius piece is presented as an affecting ballad with a hymnic, down-home feel; a bit like something Keith Jarrett
might've done back in the 1970s. "Deception," another piece presented sans
piano gets a pointillistic read, but swings like mad from start to finish.
Thread; En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa (I Seek No Power or Glory); ECMish; Wandina; Mood
Swing; Beethoven; Deception; Forbidden Fruit; Cry; Cloud Nine.
Jacam Manricks: alton, tenor, and soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute, clarinet;
Kevin Hays: piano, Fender Rhodes; Gianluca Renzi: Bass; Ari Hoenig: drums.