The man better known as drummer to Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, and Simple Minds, Manu Katché leads a double life as a restless, serious jazz musician and composer. “Restless” comes to mind on the eve of his fourth record for ECM, simply titled Manu Katché, because once again, he’s shuffled the lineup to shake up his sound.
By dispensing of a bassist, bringing in British pianist/organist Jim Watson and an old band mate in electronica jazz pioneer trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, Katché intentionally altered the dynamics of his sound — even more than he usually does — but also retained the core, which he identified as his lone holdover from Third Round, Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg, as well as his drumming and his compositions. Although I would also include another mainstay, producer Manfred Eicher.
With no conventional bass, often replaced by the mushier bass pedals of a Hammond B3 organ, Katché put himself out of his usual comfort zones, altering his strategy for playing his drums, assuming a role that’s further up front than on the prior ECM’s, especially on “Running After Years,” “Bliss,” “Walking By Your Side” and “Loose.” He thrives with this airier sonic construct, and you can hear all his minor African inflected touches, utilizing his entire kit. Molvær’s synthesized horn and his loops are right at home in this sparser soundscape, too. “Bliss” states this case, as Molvær’s electronically harmonized trumpet paired with B3 over Katché’s tribal beat creates a uniquely first world-third world marriage.
As a composer, Katché also strives for melodies, not just tones and timbres, and he gets Brunborg and Molvær to combine to illuminate them in colorful, lyrical ways on such songs as “Loving You,” “Imprint” and “Short Ride.” Molvær’s effects gracefully fill up sonic space on “Walking By Your Side,” expanding the song both sonically and harmonically, while Brunborg’s Garbarek-isms connect the listener to the earlier Katché records and the classic ECM sound.
Watson is no mere bystander there to give Katché bass pedals to interact with; he plays Jimmy Smith to Brunborg’s Stanley Turrentine on “Short Ride,” a rare swinging tune from Katché, and his fills are killer. For “Beats & Bounce,” Watson plays a funky, low register riff on piano that Katché knots tightly to his steady beat, and Watson’s piano solo is firmly in the pocket. After a false ending, Watson reappears to play the same riff on the B3, and Molvær grooves on top of that sleeker groove. “Slowing The Tides” puts Watson’s B3 in a slower, gentler mood, and Katché uncorks a snaky as hell rhythm for “Loose,” working it around the organ like the world class pro that he is. He caps it with his only drum solo on the album. Katché was a pianist before he became a drummer; on the closer “Dusk On Canon,” he plays a short solo piano piece, with a composer’s approach to the piano.
A self-titled album often signals that the artist is signing his signature on that record, but Manu Katché only makes clear that Katché is trying to avoid being defined too specifically. Generally speaking, this is an exceptional drummer who’s a fine composer and a capable bandleader. And, he’s got a different and definite musical vision for each album he makes. The vision in this instance of no bass player but adding an organ player and a technologically savvy trumpeter succeeded because in the end, it’s still a Manu Katché record.
Manu Katché will be released October 30 by ECM Records.
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