409

Manu Katche: Playground

Budd Kopman By

Sign in to view read count
Manu Katche: Playground Part of what makes jazz so fascinating is its stylistic breadth. Indeed, the word jazz is almost synonymous with "that-which-shall-not-be-defined," but labels are a shorthand that can help relate a given release's main characteristics. Playground, drummer Manu Katché's second release as a leader after Neighbourhood (ECM, 2005), resists the application of a label, but "ECM Smooth Jazz" might suffice.

Even before the screams subside, that label does need explanation. Smooth Jazz, which is a very popular genre, is usually defined as jazz with any sharp edges sanded and its harmonies, rhythms, melodies, improvisations and dynamics existing within a small range. The problem is that many people find it engrossing, while others, moved by what "real" jazz has to offer, call it "sonic wallpaper" or, even worse, "elevator music." Recall that Benny Goodman was accused of smoothing out the rhythms of black jazz to make it popular for the white audience.

Prepending ECM to the label is meant to imply an added sophistication or complication to music that remains limited in its range. This much is true, and the spice is supposed to relieve the ennui induced by lack of contrast, and raise the music from being merely euphonious to become engaging.

The audience for non-smooth jazz is quite small overall, and that for unapologetically challenging jazz is miniscule. In attempting to live in both worlds, positive spin on Playground would note its varied grooves, accessible melodies and the interplay of the musicians. Certainly, one can hear the many ways that Katché varies the basic groove of any given track. An accessible melody to one person might mean a simplistic melody to another, so how can any music be critically investigated? Is "good for what it is" a valid critical stance?

The term subtle could very well be used in positively describing this music: Katché is subtle in his rhythmic variations, pianist Marcin Wasilewski is subtle in how he colors the simple harmonies, and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz is subtle in how he varies the eleven tracks' characteristic vamps. Saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Mathias Eick subtly play against each other and Wasilewski.

However, this kind of subtlety has been layered upon a base of extreme simplicity and is worlds away from the kind of subtlety of say, Tord Gustavsen (Being There (ECM, 2007)) or Nik Bärtsch (Stoa (ECM, 2006)), to name two quite different musicians.

Gustavsen consciously strips away everything extraneous, leaving the subtle, while Bärtsch's music arises from the subtle interactions of rhythmic patterns and their repetition. The core of both men's music, however, consists of much deep thought that creates many levels within what is crystalline music.

If you are looking for somewhat sophisticated groove, then Playground fits the bill. However, if you need more of the mind to go along with the body, then you might want to look elsewhere.

Track Listing: Lo; Pieces of Emotion; Song for Her; So Groovy; Morning Joy; Motion; Project 58; Snapshot; Possible Thought; Inside Game; Clubbing; Song for Her, var.

Personnel: Manu Katch

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ECM Records | Style: Funk/Groove


Shop

More Articles

Read Groove Dreams CD/LP/Track Review Groove Dreams
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand CD/LP/Track Review Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Kami Fusen CD/LP/Track Review Kami Fusen
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Two CD/LP/Track Review Two
by Joe Gatto
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Nightfall CD/LP/Track Review Nightfall
by John Kelman
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Pekka CD/LP/Track Review Pekka
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 22, 2017
Read "Special Night" CD/LP/Track Review Special Night
by Jim Trageser
Published: November 25, 2016
Read "Tales & Tones" CD/LP/Track Review Tales & Tones
by Jerome Wilson
Published: April 1, 2017
Read "Until Your Throat Is Dry" CD/LP/Track Review Until Your Throat Is Dry
by John Sharpe
Published: September 29, 2016
Read "Tangofied III" CD/LP/Track Review Tangofied III
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 13, 2017
Read "Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette" CD/LP/Track Review Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette
by Nicola Negri
Published: December 24, 2016
Read "Volume 1" CD/LP/Track Review Volume 1
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, and provide read access to our future articles.