Drummer Manu Katché's third album as leader on ECM, largely follows suit of his previous two on the legendary German label. A spectacularly inventive drummer, Katché demonstrated on Neighborhood (ECM,2005) and Playground (ECM, 200 7) that he's also a composer of highly attractive tunes, characterized by strong melodies and a gently lilting lyricism, guided by his very personal drumming style. Third Round serves up more of the same though with subtle textural changes which reflect the change in personnel from his last outing.
Having spent most of his career coloring the music of pop artists it's maybe no coincidence that most of the tunes don't break four minutes. Considering also the caliber of many of his employeesJoni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel and Stingit's hardly surprising that Katché has developed a keen sense of the architecture of a telling song; melody is paramount, space is prized and soloing is kept to a minimum. However, that said, a couple of the compositions, particularly "Out Take Number 9" and "Urban Shadow" peter out teasingly before they have had a chance to develop. The former seems to be a feature for Katché, whose beautifully hushed pressed rolls amid some fine stick work disappears at under two minutes just as pianist Jason Rebello and saxophonist Tore Brunborg introduce the melody.
That minor criticism aside, the compositions make for extremely pleasing listening. As ever, the quality of his accompanists is second to none. Bassist Pino Palladino, himself a veteran of pop circles, provides perfect support with his customary deep groove and sense of space. Rebello, who plays with Katché in Sting's touring band, lends a soft, bluesy touch to the compositions counterbalanced by a subtle melancholy. Brunborg's tone on the saxophone is informed by Jan Garbarek and it is Brunborg's sound, gliding and ruminative, which colors the compositions most strongly. There is however, a wonderful feeling of equilibrium between all the musicians.
The addition of rising star Jacob Young on guitar adds further textures to the music. On the lovely "Keep on Trippin'" Young's guitar flutters and flirts with Brunborg's alto on a tune driven by Katché's light yet irresistibly loping groove. On "Flower Skin," Young switches to acoustic guitar and takes a short but impressive solo which suggests that he's underemployed on this CD. Another departure from Katché's first two ECM recordings as leader is the inclusion of a vocal; "Stay With You," co-written with singer Kami Lyle, has the same country-blues quality and melodic appeal as a Neil Young ballad, though Lyle's voice is a matter of personal taste. Her muted trumpet adds warmth to a song which could almost be a lullaby.
This is music which sways seductively rather than swings, though there is rhythm aplenty in jazzy tunes like "Being Ben" and "Springtime Dancing," with its ghostly Brazilian feel. Katché has crafted another album of seemingly simple yet beautiful tunes which, through their accessibility, strong melodic appeal and fine playing could serve as the perfect intro to anybody wondering where to begin with this many-headed creature called jazz.
Swing Piece; Keep on Trippin'; Senses; Being Ben; Une larme dans ton sourire; Springtime Dancing; Out Take Number 9; Shine and Blue; Stay With You; Flower Skin; Urban Shadow.
Manu Katché: drums; Tore Brunborg: saxophones; Jason Rebello: piano, Fender Rhodes; Pino Palladino: bass; Jacob Young: guitars (2, 6, 10); Kami Lyle: vocal (9), trumpet (9, 10).
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