Manu Katché – Neighbourhood (2006)

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by Mark Saleski

Ever stumble into one of those snotty Internet arguments tugging back & forth about the capabilities of musicians? Specifically, the old “Is it possible for player X (an expert in genre A) to cross over to the land of genre B?” “Well, of course he can.” “He’s a master!” “No he can’t.” “This music has nothing to do with that music.” “You’re an idiot.” “Besides, that music is just plain lame.” “Did I mention that you’re an idiot?”

The question here is not so distinct as “Can a heavy metal drummer play country?”, or “Can a jazzer rock out?” (the answers, by the way, are “Yes”, “No”, “Yes”, “No”, “What kind of a question is that?” and “You’re an idiot”).

No, here we’re dealing with the pop and jazz genres. They can share more attributes than fans from either side might be willing to admit. For proof, look no further than Manu Katché, Sting, Jan Garbarek, Robbie Robertson, Al Di Meola, Peter Gabriel, and Youssou N’Dour. Katché is not only comfortable in those disparate settings, he shines in them.

Much like his work on Garbarek’s In Praise Of Dreams, Neighbourhood finds Katché propelling his program of original compositions with subtlety and grace by applying a seeming endless supply of accents. Listen to “Number One,” where Katché anchors and colors the rhythm section supporting the sax, trumpet, and piano solos. The main pulse is offered by a simple, dry ride cymbal pattern, but with each and every measure painted with a different accent. Especially sweet is the break at around two minutes in, where a little flourish of brushes on cymbals launches the band back into the next segment.

Whether it’s ballads (“Lullaby”), uptempo numbers (“Miles Away”) or blues grooves (“Take Off And Land”), Neighbourhood is built on many instances of this kind of sublime interplay.

In professional sports it is a given that chemistry can make or break a team’s chance at success during any given season. While listening to Neighbourhood, I was somewhat amazed at how together this group sounds, as if they had played together for decades. Katché and Garbarek do have a history. And of course, Wasilewski (piano) and Kurkiewicz (double-bass) are from Tomasz Stanko’s group. Still, hat’s off to ECM’s Manfred Eicher for making this particular ensemble happen. They have that Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette comfort going on.

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