Manu Katche: Manu Katche (2012)
Since joining ECM for Neighbourhood (2005), Manu Katché has carved out a very specific niche for himself at a label whose purview continues to broadenwith this French-Ivorian drummer, perhaps surprisingly so. Contemporary? Yes, Katché has fashioned a nearly four-decade career as a superb groove-meister, whether in the rock world with artists Sting or Peter Gabriel, or with more decidedly jazz-centric artists like saxophonist Jan Garbarek, on Dresden (ECM, 2009), or keyboardist Herbie Hancock, on his (admittedly more pop-oriented) The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010). But with his now four ECM recordings defined by accessible grooves and singable melodies, they're still absolutely players' recordings, and certainly nowhere near "smooth jazz" sphere to which some folks attribute them.
Manu Katché follows Third Round (2010), but returns to the slightly longer song lengths of Playground (2007), allowing his quartet, which brings back Third Round's Tore Brunborg, more maneuvering room. The saxophonist first appeared on the international stage with ECM and Masqualero, the now-legendary Norwegian quintet, led by bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen, that also included a young Nils Petter Molvær, here making his recording debut with Katché. The trumpeter has garnered significant attention, beginning with the paradigm shift of his electro-centric, pan-cultural 1997 ECM debut, Khmer, through to the present, his current trio continuing to bust down borders of orthodoxy, style and culture on Baboon Moon (Sula, 2011).
Manu Katché represents, then, a reunion of sorts for Molvær and the equally busy Brunborgwhose star has been on its own ascendancy for recent ECM work with pianists Ketil Bjørnstad (2010's Remembrance) and Tord Gustavsen (2012's The Well). Katché rounds out his bass-less quartet with British pianist/organist Jim Watson, for a program that ranges from the post-bop swing of "Short Ride" and soulful, tom-driven vamp of "Bliss" to the modal funk of "Beats & Bounce," and "Loving You," a ballad at its core but possessing, with Watson's intervallic-leaping Hammond, considerably more forward motion.
Molvær expands Katché's soundstage, for the first time, with his technology-driven approach; harmonized, with copious reverb and other effects, the trumpeter's solo on the propulsive "Walking By Your Side" is a sonic tour de force, though he adopts a more burnished, acoustic tone in the front line melodies with Brunborg on tracks like "Short Ride" and "Loose," but with an immediately recognizable embouchure.
As ever, Brunborg solos with effortless aplomb, weaving melodic yet change-aware lines through Katché's writing, while Watson demonstrates similarly unfettered imagination on piano, whether it's on the soft ballad, "Loving You" or "Beats & Bounce," where he channels his inner Herbie Hancock.
Katché rarely solos, though when he does near the end of "Short Ride," it's quickly clear that he's got plenty of jazz chops to spare. Katché made the right decision to leave more space on Manu Katché, because it would be an absolute mistake to constrain a quartet this good to just three or four minutes. Still, not a note is wasted with what may be his best group yet. Manu Katché may be ECM's most vital, booty-shaking record everand live, this group must be positively nuclear.
Track Listing: Running After Years; Bliss; Loving You; Walking By Your Side; Imprint; Short Ride; Beats & Bounce; Slowing the Tides; Loose; Dusk on Carnon.
Personnel: Jim Watson: piano (, Hammond B3 organ; Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet, loops; Tore Brunborg: tenor and soprano saxophones; Manu Katché: drums, piano solo (10).
Record Label: ECM Records