Shelly Manne: "The Three" & "The Two"
During the tune's "B" section, Manne purposefully moves in and out of the mix while Rogers bears down and moves the music forward. After a cymbal swell serenades the trumpeter's arrival, a mallet roll lands on top of several notes in a manner that sounds sympathetic to the melody. Seven neatly executed single strokes mingle with Rogers' phrases. Just when more combinations of rolls and singles are anticipated, Manne drops out and leaves the horns to their own devices for a few bars. A discreet reentry consists of a handful of brush strokes that barely register.
In contrast to "Flip" and "Autumn In New York," Manne is the driving force of Shorty Rogers' "Three On A Row," one of the first twelve-tone compositions performed in the jazz idiom. While Rogers and Giuffre state the tone row a dozen times in various guises and tempos, and make brief transitions in modulating chord progressions, Manne's extroverted, multidimensional drumming holds the various pieces together and prevents the track from sounding like an academic exercise.
When Manne makes calculated trips around the set that support and replicate Rogers' and Giuffre's lines, playing galvanizing two, four, and eight-bar breaks, and occasionally executing conventional time, sometimes it's difficult to tell what's improvised and what's based on Rogers' written score. The element of surprise is never more than a few bars away. After furious brushwork animates an opening that would fit into many of the adventurous Blue Note sessions from the fifties and sixties, in a matter of seconds Manne's scant, out-of-tempo solo strokes wax surreal and bring the music to a standstill. Later on, when a series of tidy, neatly executed breaks start to sound predictable, his spasmodic rim shot, bass and snare combination is wicked and exhilarating.
For the first ten seconds of Charlie Parker's iconic "Steeplechase," Manne lays out his tools in anticipation of the work ahead. Short, semi-independent groups of hits are executed between the snare, bass drum, and tom-toms. Manne gets a warm, rounded sound out of each drum, and leaves a fraction of a second between each snippet, offering no hint of a fixed tempo until the very end. Bits of this intentionally wooly solo introduction reappear in the middle of the second bar of the three "A" sections of the head, when an eight-stroke phrase replicates the first eight notes of Parker's line.
The sweet spot that Manne finds in the thick of Rogers' treatment of the melody and Giuffre's combination of melody and counterpoint is but one element of an inspired piece of rhythmic architecture and execution. He swings without alluding to conventional timekeeping devices; dynamics are in the middle range and the strokes are firm but not overplayed; and, most of all, there's an appealingly relaxed quality to the way he trots out the phrase. Manne doesn't strain to make his point, and the trio's interpretation of Parker's line is unique, in part because of his willingness to blend in with Rogers and Giuffre.
In addition to a couple of items from the Great American Songbook and one Charlie Parker composition, The Two features three originals by pianist Russ Freeman, who wrote down segments of live performances in which he and Manne played as a duo while the rest of Rogers' band laid out. During the medium and up-tempo tracks, the murky undertow of Freeman's left hand jostles against right-hand melodies in ways that are provocative but not pristine. Amidst the dense textures and busy forward movement, Manne's individual strokes don't always project as clearly as on the tracks with Rogers and Giuffre, but the spirited give-and-take between Manne and Freeman is apparent at every turn.