Feb 3 2014
Working the line where jazz and folk meet, saxophonist Sarah Manning captures the vibrant energy of the former and the back porch languor of the latter. Her 2013 release Harmonious Creature touches upon similar motifs as that of Bill Frisell and his Americana Jazz stylings, but where Frisell pretty much ventures out of jazz territory and into the folk countryside, Manning’s music tends to stray more often on the post-bop side of that borderline.
Your album personnel: Sarah Manning (alto sax), Eyvind Kang (viola), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), Rene Hart (bass), and Jerome Jennings (drums).
And Manning does play a game of hopscotch down that jazz-folk border… with one foot planted firmly on one side of the land at any one time and the other foot suspended above the opposite genre. Opening track “Copeland On Cornelia Street” rides the charming squiggles of melody from Manning’s sax and Kang’s viola into a waltz-like motion, then changing partners and letting Hart take over while Manning develops the melody into something fiercer and wilder. “Tune of Cats” begins with a similar mode, sax piping up with warm notes for viola to leap from one to the other, while Goldberger and Jennings work a more standard repertoire as the rhythm section. Bassist Hart, again, contributes a resounding dialog in the deeper registers, providing an earthy soulfulness to complement Manning’s fiery solo.
When Manning’s crew plants their feet down on the post-bop side of the line, they do it with authority. The up-tempo “Floating Bridge” brings the heat, and Manning’s sax solo spreads like wildfire. “Three Chords for Jessica,” actually, taps a moodier sound more reminiscent of the folk song approach, but Manning lights the song up on saxophone, riding the crest of a slowly building intensity from the other quintet members. And the slow blues of “What the Blues Left Behind” brings a nicely defined melody on sax, though it’s the seaside ease of guitar that cements the heart of this song in place.
“I Dream a Highway” and “Radish Spirit” go a long way to showing how the quintet doesn’t need to turn up the temperature to get a rise out of the music. The former has a shimmering melody, glimmering with moodiness and effects, whereas the latter develops a gentle sway that holds the song in place no matter how volatile a solo might become. And “Grey Dawn, Red Fox” is one of those rare times when the quintet has a foot planted squarely in both jazz and folk territories at the same time.
The notable presence of violist Eyvind Kang can’t be overlooked. His contributions to albums by Bill Frisell and Jenny Scheinmann, artists who have similarly found a home on the border between jazz and folk, has Kang right at home on this kind of session. His ability to modulate seamlessly between expressions of the two genres, synthesizing the commonalities while simultaneously accentuating the intrigue of the differences, goes a long way to aiding in the success of this recording.
Just a very enjoyable album, one that crackles with life while retaining a peacefulness that makes for a winning demeanor.
Released on Posi-Tone Records.
Jazz from NYC.