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Take Five With Manuel Engel

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Manuel Engel: Manuel Engel is a Chrysler Jazz Award winner, 14th Annual Billboard World Songwriting Contest winner, Excellence in Songwriting Award winner. A classically trained and internationally renowned musician, he has performed everywhere from the Knitting Factory to the Kennedy Center, combining the classic influences of Miles Davis with the breakthrough techniques of visionaries like John Cage and Sun Ra.

Instrument(s): Composer/Pianist/Producer.

Teachers and/or influences? Teachers: Richie Beirach, Chico Freeman, William Evans. Influences: Miles Davis, Steve Reich, Sun Ra, John Cage.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... As a kid my mother used to go to the market every Saturday. Meanwhile (in the car) my father and I were listening to a cassette featuring Michel Petrucciani, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson. I knew music would be always a major part of my life. Today when listening to the tape, I can sing along each track, knowing exactly what's coming next.

Your sound and approach to music: Meditation - Repetition - Zen.

Your teaching approach: Know the basics - let go and play "yourself"

Favorite venue: 2000 at an event in Switzerland - since my name is Engel (english: angel) the promoters put on the ceiling a giant angel just designed for my band Manuel Engel 5. The house was packed and people went crazy about the music and performers!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? After writing a thank you note to a reviewer he writes me back: "I honestly feel like you are making some worthy contributions to the future of jazz.

I still believe jazz music is not dead yet, and I'm eager to push the music forward with my concepts.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Below you'll find a great review regarding this topic:

For people familiar with the principles of geometry, this may seem obvious. But when it comes to thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope, the box and the envelope both have more than one side to push on or think outside of. That is, thinking outside the right side of the box could yield a completely different result from thinking outside the left side.

That's the general idea, anyway, applied here to the evolution of jazz - which for the past thirty years has been doing more de-evolving (as the rock band Devo might say).

After free jazz and fusion proved to be dead ends for creative improvising, Wynton Marsalis persuaded the American audience to return to traditional jazz values. It wasn't such a great idea but, basically, nobody had a better idea.

The other day a trio of CDs arrived shining some genuine inspiration into the future of this stalled-out American art form. The artists are Swiss-born New York-based keyboard composer Manuel Engel, whose trio is known as ME 3; the Japanese husband-wife duo of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii; and the duo of guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel of Austria and percussionist Brian Blade of Louisiana.

Each CD is basically an abstract study combining improvisation and composition, finding unconventional ways to imply rhythm and hint at the continuity of a melody. Mostly they are laying down moods or creating atmospheres of sound, rather than continuing today's bebop tradition of a solo voice backed by a rhythm section. Engel, for example, finds sweet release in the emptiness of space. Like the Buddhists, he wants to disconnect from tension by simplifying his thoughts. A few well-placed notes can be filled with insight, though for the uninitiated they can also sound rather random. If today's computer-driven economy is squeezing all of us into a few universal shapes that can be organized at warp speed, Engel is finding us some wiggle room.


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