In the midst of the college-bred blandness of saxophonists posturing for position on the jazz stage with technique to spare and a full store of generic ideas, stand a few risk takers who don't seem to be the least bit concerned with tired jam session worthiness. Such an artist is alto saxophonist Sarah Manning whose third release as a leader, Dandelion Clock, is a contemplative set of compositional depth and flexible ensemble interplay.
Manning, a Brooklyn resident who spent a few fruitful years on the West Coast, is joined by her current band of pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Kyle Struve. The quartet sets a free-flowing, wherever-the-wind-may-take-us mood with "The Peacocks," an animated waltz written by the late pianist Jimmy Rowles. Manning's stark tone is stinging and bold, a delightful combination of Jackie McLean and Johnny Hodges. She dances through the melody and subsequent solo with vitality and warmth; inviting yet somewhat pleasingly on edge. Equally enticing moments are heard on the saxophonist's extended solo cadenza on "Habersham Street," and the angular back and forth with bassist Oh on "Crossing, Waiting." Indeed, Oh plays a significant role in shaping the group's sound, incorporating a throbbing sound and tireless drive.
The quirky, unpredictable flow of "The Owls (Are On the March)" is a disc highlight. The tune features an outstanding burst of creativity from pianist Hirahara with drummer Struve in-toe with rhythmic intuitiveness. The disc ends in dramatic flair with Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind." The opening duet between Manning and Oh sets up a sweeping crescendo with Hirahara and Struve sneaking their way into a declamatory session-ending finish.
Track Listing: The Peacocks; Marble; Habersham Street; I Tell Time By the Dandelion Clock; Crossing, Waiting; The Owls (Are on the March); Through the Keyhole; Phoenix Song; The Windmills of Your Mind.
Personnel: Sarah Manning: alto saxophone; Art Hirahara: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Kyle Struve: drums.
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