It's a quiet day in the Neighbourhood. Manu Katché's ECM debut understates everything with a calm reserve, threatening to fade into the background without a fight (or a sax squawk). Check out the titles: "Lullaby," "No Rush," and "Lovely Walk," all urging your fragile attention to wander from the lilting tune. But then Tomasz Stanko steps up to solo, gilding the lyrical lily until he arpeggios up to a breathy peak in "Number One," snapping you out of whatever pleasant reverie you were soaking in.
That's the lovely pattern of this disc, working an ethereal groove into the ground until one of the talented virtuosos sneaks in a dissonant note, snapping everyone back to attention until they drift languorously away once again. The ebb and flow demands attention.
The French-African Katché cut his teeth on the condescending "world" music-inspired pop of Peter Gabriel and Sting, when ECM honcho Manfred Eicher thought his inventive rhythms could be used in improvised settings. Here he's paired with a European supergroup: Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and his countrymen Marcin Wasilewski (piano) and Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass).
The opener, "November 99," ignores the horns for a piano-bass-drums setup that's concerned with the rich spaces between notes. Wasilewski begins lush, then ramps down into some dark riffs as his compatriots snap in. Then Kurkiewicz, pizzicato, lays out the melody. Katché busies himself in the background, brushing and scraping some depth to the weightless tune, wreaking havoc on the tempo, zooming and retarding, a peerless play of stop-start dynamics. Wasilewski responds with unfinished runs, letting silence fill his peaks, each one a drama of anticipation. Then it settles and flows until Kurkiewicz slowly repeats the melody, winding down into sweet dissolution.
More highlights: the lurching heavy breathing of Garbarek's sax in "Number One"; Was and Stanko trading elliptical lines in "Lullaby"; the loose workout "Miles Away" ending mid-riff; and Stanko getting guttural on the lovely "Lovely Walk." "Rose" and "Good Influence" are the duds; these decorous tunes are never subverted the way the rest of the album is with such subtle ingenuity. In any case, Katché's cachet should be steadily on the rise.
November 99; Number One; Lullaby; Good Influence; February Sun; No Rush; Lovely Walk; Take Off & Land; Miles Away; Rose.
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