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As its title suggests, Chamber Jazz, the new release from multi-instrumentalist and composer Jacám Manricks, deftly melds traditions from jazz with classical music and their many sub-genres. But it goes well beyond that, too, reimagining the very concept until it emerges as something altogether new. Chamber Jazz incorporates influences from cornerstone artists working within multiple genres, including Miles Davis, Beethoven, Milton Nascimento, Jean Sibelius, Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman, with that of Manricks’ peers on the contemporary New York and international jazz and New Music scenes. On paper that
may look like an undertaking that would invite skepticism, but one listen is all it takes to realize that Jacám Manricks and his chosen collaborators have pulled off that challenge in the grandest of ways.
“The music is significantly scored, performed by a small group, and is ubiquitous with improvisation, so it seemed fitting to name this album Chamber Jazz as these attributes characterize that subgenre,” Manricks says. When conceiving the music for the 10-song project Manricks first considered the distinctive styles of the artists with whom he would be performing. Then he built the compositions around their individual attributes and sensitivities. “While their technique and versatility allowed me to be ambitious scoring the music, I also tried to create space within it to capture each of their unique voices,” he says in the album’s liner notes.
From the opening volley of the incendiary “Thread” to the looser, more contemplative closer, “Cloud Nine,” the four musicians who come together on Chamber Jazz—Manricks (alto, soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, alto flute and clarinet), Kevin Hays (piano and Fender Rhodes), Gianluca Renzi (acoustic bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums)—are a textbook example of precisely why a fine-tuned sense of intuitive interplay is so important. Hays brings a beautiful contrapuntal approach to the music in both his accompaniment and solo style. Renzi provides a solid rhythmic foundation with sonorous bass lines. And Hoenig, one of the most in-demand and inventive drummers today, contributes some of the most advanced polyrhythmic and melodic drumming the New York City jazz scene has to offer today.
Of course, Manricks himself is the guiding force behind the project, which elevates both his playing and rich compositional acuity to another level. Described as having "superb saxophone work (and) intellectually stimulating writing" by All About Jazz, and a musician whose “artistry possesses old-soul provenance” in DownBeat, the Australian-born Manricks has become a familiar face on the New York scene and an internationally recognized artist whose each new offering is more highly anticipated than the last.
For Chamber Jazz, Manricks researched music from a number of different styles and merged elements of those styles with his own approaches to composition. “My writing and playing has always been a conglomeration of different styles, particularly drawing from my jazz and classical background, and more recently different folk music,” he says. “This project, in a way, is a culmination of that.”
The album features music Manricks has been writing and performing over the last few years. Much of it was written (and arranged) with the contributors’ individual styles in mind, specifically Hoenig’s approach to complex meters and Hays’ approach to a variety of tuneful harmonies.
From track to track, the quartet continually displays its versatility and open-ended approach to creation. Three numbers that fall consecutively midway—“Wandina” (inspired by the lesser-known 20th century classical composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert), the Milton Nascimento-informed “Mood Swing,” and “Beethoven,” which Manricks describes as “a contrafact on the ‘Moonlight Sonata’” and which features stunning piano work from Hays—could not be more different in terms of mood and texture, yet they feel of a piece, connected viscerally.
The intriguingly titled “ECMish” sounds exactly how its title implies it would—one can imagine that legendary record label’s founder and chief producer, Manfred Eicher, sitting in the room as Manricks and the others sculpt the piece. On “Cry,” Manricks, Renzi and Hoenig run rings around each other, building atmosphere upon atmosphere. “En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa (I Seek No Power or Glory’),” an arrangement of a work by the late Romantic period composer Jean Sibelius, projects a sweetness and an airy coolness, while both “Forbidden Fruit” and the new interpretation of Miles Davis’ “Deception” are imbued with exciting and unpredictable twists and turns.
Chamber Jazz is Jacám Manricks’ fourth album as a leader, following Labyrinth, Trigonometry and Cloud Nine. One of the main objectives of this new one, he says, “was to try to further develop my musical vocabulary. Trying to create something that sounds beautiful, as a means of communication with others, or to try develop a new ‘language’ of sorts, is probably one of the most important things we as humans can do.”
For further information, visit Jacam Manricks’ website at: www.jacammanricks.com