Jim Watson piano, Hammond B3 organ
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet, loops
Tore Brunborg tenor and soprano saxophones
Manu Katché drums, piano solo on Dusk On Carnon
Recorded March 2012, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de haro and Romain Castera
Produced by Manfred Eicher
French-Ivorian drummer Manu Katché first caught my ear on Jan Garbarek’s Visible World, for which he provided a comforting balance of the smooth and the jagged. Since then, I’d heard him lurking in many of the saxophonist’s records, including Ragas and Sagas, I Took Up The Runes, and Twelve Moons. Yet it wasn’t until 2005’s Neighbourhood that he blossomed before my ears as a composer of economy, straightforwardness, and panache. Thus began the Manu Katché “band,” the makeup of which has changed with every album since. Horns remain a constant, and this latest effort puts him in studio contact with Nils Petter Molvær on trumpet and Tore Brunborg on reeds, along with Jim Watson on piano and Hammond B3. Molvær is a particularly welcome addition to the roster. Like Katché, he’d been a sideman for his fair share of memorable ECM sessions, including projects with singer Sidsel Endresen and Arild Andersen’s Masqualero, but his breakout moments came as a leader on 1997’s Khmer. As for Watson, he and Katché share a double life in the world of popular music—the former with Meshell Ndegeocello, the latter with Peter Gabriel—and for this outing the keyboardist takes the place of bass and completes an unbeatable (no oxymoron intended) rhythm section. This constant change in lineup speaks to the maturation of an artist whose instrument is so often forgotten in the grander mix, for even among these fiery talents his voice rings with a binding energy all its own.
It’s no coincidence, then, that those drums should lead us into the smoothness of “Running After Years,” the first of ten new originals. From its monochromatic groove and descending horn lines, we get a prime taste of Katché’s melodic sensibilities and of his band’s invaluable contributions toward realizing them. Molvær takes the first solo, walking avenues on winged heels. “Bliss” turns the lights down even lower on this city of love, giving Watson a chance to go a-Hammonding on fresh snowfall. “Loving You” funnels moonlight into the quietest corners of the heart, and with the last shows that keyboard and drums could take this album and run at any time if they wanted to. Molvær’s Jon Hassell-like touches in “Walking By Your Side” paint over an already smoky sky with charcoal before Brunborg’s tenor rides a wave of organ to distant shores. “Imprint” is a song without words, a quiet anthem for the departed that bleeds good memory. Its contrast to the surrounding tracks is starkly beautiful, and leaves us cored for the fluid energy Brunborg brings to “Short Ride.” As extroverted as its predecessor is veiled, it shows Katché’s kit skills at their bubbliest. “Beats & Bounce” is an easy favorite. Swinging from a piano hook that stays with you, this emblematic tune finds itself from the get-go and doesn’t let go. At moments you’d swear there was a bass there in the mix, but it’s Watson all the way. “Slowing The Tides” pushes us deeper into the album’s nocturnal engineering, through which organ wavers like dragon’s breath. The band ends its tenure on “Loose.” This simple chapter turns our protagonists inward, leaving only Katché alone at the piano for “Dusk On Carnon.” Originally trained on the instrument, he shucks the music from its husk, offering an ear to those who will partake.
With a feel for the evocative that is his trademark, Katché’s self-titled latest brings freshness wherever it goes. One listen is all it takes to convince us of its sheer enjoyment.
To hear samples of Manu Katché, click here. And for some footage in the studio, look no further: