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Manu Katché: Touchstone for Manu

Mark Sullivan By

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Drummer Manu Katche found the spotlight supplying the groove to recordings by rock artists Peter Gabriel and Sting, then to jazz artists Jan Garbarek and Herbie Hancock. His four ECM recordings as leader showed him to be an accomplished composer and bandleader as well. Now that he has apparently left the label, Touchstone for Manu is a specially-priced compilation that gives roughly equal weight to each of those sessions.

The style is basically acoustic jazz, with rock grooves rather than swing. Katché's drumming is at the heart of the band, but these selections include no drum solos—he makes his presence felt by composing all of the music, and driving the band from the drum kit. The first two albums, Neighbourhood (ECM, 2004) and Playground (ECM, 2007) share a common rhythm section of Katché plus pianist Marcin Wasilewski and double bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz. Neighbourhood featured the star horn section of saxophonist Jan Garbarek (returning the favor for Manu's playing in his band) and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Playground substituted saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Mathias Eick on the front line.

It's notable that the collection opens with "Song For Her" from the second album. A memorable tune, which lacks the instantly recognizable sound of Garbarek's saxophone. If you want your own sound, sometimes it's better to avoid the star guests. Which is not to accuse Garbarek and Stanko of overplaying; they simply have a higher profile. The tone of both albums is well summarized by the song title "So Groovy."

Third Round (ECM, 2009) introduced a new group, featuring pianist Jason Rebello, fretless electric bass guitarist Pino Palladino (best known for his work with singer Paul Young), and saxophonist Tore Brunborg. "Keep On Trippin'" also included guitarist Jacob Young, adding an interesting color to the texture. Palladino's playing takes the "groove" quotient up a notch.

Manu Katché (ECM, 2012) changed direction by leaving the bass out altogether, except when provided by Jim Watson's Hammond B3 organ (or piano). The group was filled out by returning saxophonist Tore Brunborg, and Nils Petter Molvaer's trumpet and loops. Although the ensemble looks more electronic than the previous ones, it's still in the same acoustic jazz camp.

This is an enjoyable compilation, with a sufficiently unified approach to avoid the patchwork effect that plagues some similar albums. It's an opportunity to catch up on Manu Katché's work as a leader, as well as an easy recommendation for fans of any of his sidemen.

Track Listing: Song For Her; Number One; Take Off And Land; So Groovy; Morning Joy; Keep On Trippin’; Senses; Swing Piece; Running After Years; Slowing The Tides; Bliss.

Personnel: Mathias Eick: trumpet; Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Nils Petter Molvaer: trumpet, loops; Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone; Trygve Seim: tenor saxophone; Tore Brunborg: saxophones; Jacob Young: guitars; Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Jason Rebello: piano; Jim Watson: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double bass; Pino Palladino: bass; Manu Katché: drums.

Title: Touchstone for Manu | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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