Manu Katché – Unstatic (2016)

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Following a four-album stint with prime jazz imprint ECM and a live record on ACT, drumming extraordinaire Manu Katché begins a new chapter in his recording career with Unstatic.

Gone is Manfred Eicher’s sterile production in favor of Katché’s, which is warmer, anlog-y and — perhaps not surprisingly — puts the drums a little more prominently in the mix. Those changes aren’t really as dramatic as it might sound: Katché wrote the songs before and he writes them now, and he retains saxophonist Tore Brunborg and keyboardist Jim Watson from the ECM days, as well as trumpet player Luca Aquino, who came on board before 2015’s Live In Concert.

For the first time since Third Round, Katché’s band has a bass players too, adding Andrea Ellen Wang who also leads the Swedish pop-jazz troupe Pixel. She adds even more international diversity to a band that is led by the Frenchman Katché and also includes a Brit (Watson), Norwegian (Brunborg) and Italian (Aquino). The missing bass didn’t leave such a void, as Watson was able to often compensate with his organ’s bass pedals, but Wang’s keen sense of the pocket works to reinforce the grooves.

In fact, this album’s harder groove element led me to believe on the initial listen that the carefully discreet, sophisticated harmonic structure of Katché’s ECM compositions were giving way to simpler motifs in a move toward crossover appeal. Subsequent listens uncover the same kind of refinement and attention of harmonic detail as before. Sure, “Unstatic,” the title track, is a highly syncopated groove, which Katché thrives on. Watson’s crunchy electric piano and organ is doing more with less and Brunborg’s sax puts the jazz into this funk-jazz tune. But the lead lines as played by Aquino and shared later with Brunborg go through changes and the song transformed without your realizing it because Katché’s joyful beats is the constant holding it all together.

A Fender Rhodes pulse sets the foundation for “Flame&co” (which isn’t flamenco music at all) but the layering of Brunborg’s and Aquino’s horns over each other propelled by Katché’s forceful drumming as the song reaches its apex defines it by the end. Drum ‘n’ bass influences the organ-driven “City” but it doesn’t work without the symmetry between the Brunborg/Aquino union and the Katché/Wang rhythm engine, and Aquino’s effects-laden trumpet on the bridge evokes his predecessor in the band, Nils Petter Molvær. “Blossom” is a mid-tempo pop-jazz pleasure topped off by harmony humming from Wang and Katché alongside an elegant Watson piano solo.

A good groove gets “Rolling” rolling, where Nils Landgren and his funky, feisty trombone guests; Landgren is also found on “Unstatic,” “Blossom” and the sign-off funk riff “Number 11.”

Some of the tracks are more overtly the kind of complex but uncluttered compositions Katché has built his ECM reputation on, with interesting melodic progressions and sometimes multiple motifs, such as a bridge that sets up a deep soul Rhodes solo on the otherwise ritualistic funk of “Ride Me Up.” And then, there’s the short, Cuban salsa cut “Introducción,” which doesn’t fit into the normal style of Manu Katché songs but so what, it’s a fine way to start the album.

Unstatic might not be a typical ECM Manu Katché record, but it remains very much in keeping with the style of Manu Katché, which continues to discreetly evolve and stay very much engaging.

Unstatic goes on sale July 27, 2016 by Ante Prima Productions.


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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