Sarah Manning – Dandelion Clock (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

“Finding your own voice” is such an overused phrase these days. That especially holds true in the music business, where such rote advice is handed out like doubloons at a Mardi Gras parade. The young, alto tenor saxophone specialist Sarah Manning has heard those words herself, but probably since they came directly from sages like Jackie McLean and Yusef Lateef, she actually took the advice to heart. And if there’s one thing that stands out the most about her newest release, Dandelion Clock, it’s that her saxophone sound is truly her own.

While it’s hard to escape the great influence of Parker—or McLean for that matter—when it comes to playing bop jazz on the alto, Manning’s is distinguished by the way the sound of her horn fully projects out in a full, clear tone. Her vibrato is distinctively not too wide or too narrow; her phrasing speaks like a passionate human voice, following the melody at safe distance.

This fresh new May 11 release, her first for Posi-Tone and third overall, marks her return back East. This New England native cut her teeth in the rich musical environs of San Francisco, and now she is set to conquer New York. They say if “you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere” (yet another overly familiar phrase), but Ms. Manning makes the case that she really can.

Dandelion Clock sounds like an album title that came from the Dukes of Stratosphear (rather, it was inspired from a poem by Mary K. Robinson) but that’s the extent of the psychedelia on this album. Joining Ms. Manning on this collection of seven of her originals and two standards are Art Hirahara on piano, Kyle Struve on drums and the uniquely talented Linda Oh on bass.

This set of up-tempo swinging numbers and down-tempo ballads provides the right program to showcase her approach across a variety of moods. Jimmy Rowles’ eternal “The Peacocks” is made into a calling card for Manning, her soaring, whimsical sax taking center stage. Across the remaining seven tracks, she generously allows space for her bandmates to spread their wings, too. Hirahara renders rollicking, full fingered solos on “Marble” and “Dandelion Clock” “Crossing, Waiting” is an impressive showcase for Oh, and she weaves an intricate web of notes behind the leader on “The Windmills Of Your Mind.” Changing tempos are the order of the day for “The Owls (Are On The March),” a bit of a gauntlet thrown down for Struve that he navigates without any trouble. Manning herself acquits herself quite well in the a cappella section of “Habersham Street,” hitting every note in extended sequences with a clear, untainted tone.

Within the normally cozy confines of nocturnal jazz, Sarah Manning finds the room to be a little adventuresome and do it in her own sweet style. Dandelions Clock announces in a big way that she has arrived in New York and intends to make her presence known for quite a while.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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