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MAXED OUT. Phillip Manuel enters the MAXJAZZ fray as the first male jazz vocalist in this sixth installment of the label's "Vocal Series". The previous releases, all critically welcomed, include LaVerne Butler's Blues in the City, Carla Cook's It's All About Love, Christine Hitt's You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, Asa Harris All In good Time, and Rene Marie's How Can I Keep From Singing?. Exceptional engineering and sonics as well as a gentle swell of swing in the performances characterize all of these releases. Love Happened to Me does not detour from this.
The New Orleans-born Manuel was a friend and protégé of fellow New Orleanian Aaron Neville, who defines Manuel as, "...one of my favorite jazz singers...." No faint praise here. Manuel's New Orleans roots betray themselves in the eclectic nature of his music. Manual chooses for this recital standards old (“If I Were A Bell” and “’Round Midnight”), standards new (Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and Sting’s “Fragile”) as well as several originals, including the title track. That tells you what but not how. Manuel is a super vocal stylist, turning the upbeat into gymnastic floor exercises and the ballads (so difficult to sing slowly) into sonic ambrosia.
”If I Were a Bell” is the disc centerpiece and occurs early in the rotation. Manuel’s singing is sure and on the mark. Difficult phrases are easily accomplished. His heartfelt croon on the original title displays the other side of his singing: the tender and controlled. These two pieces compactly encompass all of Manuel’s singing talent. The remainder of this superb disc is just gravy.
Manuel’s support is superb (as we have come to expect from MAXJAZZ). His backing musicians include Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, Peter Martin, and Steve Masakowski. The swing these musicians attain has a quiet, potent velocity. Love Happened to Me may very well be the best of the MAXJAZZ lot. I welcome all further releases by the label and especially Mr. Manuel.
Track Listing: I Wish; If I Were A Bell; Race; Summertime; Only All Of Me Will Do; Fragile; Round Midnight; Just Squeeze Me; These Foolish Things; When You Said You Loved Me; Change The World; In The Zone; Love Happened To Me. (Total Time: 59:46)
Personnel: Phillip Manuel: Vocals; Peter Martin: Piano And Organ; Ellis Marsalis: Piano; Fred Sanders: Organ; Roland Guerin: Bass; Bill Huntington: Bass; Steve Masakowski: Guitar; Nicholas Payton: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Brice Winston: Tenor Saxophone; Aaron Fletcher: Alto Saxophone; Kent Jordan: Flute, Piccolo; Adonis Rose: Drums: Bill Summers: Percussion.