Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

A Love Requited~Myele Manzanza

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The Myele Manzanza ‘A Love Requited’ gig opened with a heart-stopping rendition of his tune ‘Ritual’. As the leader’s beats drove out the grey of winter, it left no room for doubt; this was a drummer gig. He moved his body to the music and rained down rhythms and everyone was mesmerised. As drummers move, their feet and hands blur and dance, but few move their upper bodies like Manzanza. This gig was all about sublime motion; kinetic transportation into pulsing parallel worlds. It was very ancient, eternally present, and futuristic. As he bent close to the kit or circled the snare he looked like a hawk circling his prey. This was different drumming and while it was firmly rooted in Jazz, it also mined deeper timeless roots. It also felt intensely personal.

With him on the New Zealand leg of the tour were genius pianist Jonathan Crayford and the powerhouse Wellington bass player Johnny Lawrence. His bandmates needed to be chosen well, because what was on offer was not your usual piano trio music. Everything about the compositions centred around the percussive and was juxtaposed against compelling rhythms; whether soft or loud, piano or bass. Powerful ostinato patterns established, evolving into figures or melodic lines before turning back on themselves. This had the effect of intensifying the vibe and drawing the audience deeper into the soundscape. The drums on the gig were often loud and at times really loud, but when the quieter more reflective passages occurred the intensity remained.  

Manzanza is the son of a Congolese master percussionist and the name Manzanza derives from beat out rhythms. All of that is implicit in his compositions, but it is also a doorway into a bigger story. ‘A Love Requited’ is also about fine composition and superb arranging. Out of that rich rhythmic brew and long evolving history comes an album filled with surprising subtlety. The album is well mixed and the individual players in the ensemble are given ample room to breathe. There are various arrangers credited and all serve the music well. That said, Manzanza arranging Manzanza is what stands out for me.

The album features a medium-sized ensemble with additional players appearing on certain tracks. This band has connections far and wide but it is mainly an Australasian affair. Manzanza and Jake Baxendale are from New Zealand as is ex-pat Mark de Clive-Lowe. The remaining band members, mostly Australian, feature talents such a Matthew Sheens (full personnel list below) and co-producer Ross McHenry. A number of the above musicians are either resident in or regular performers on the USA scene.

If you get a chance, catch the live gigs. More importantly, grab a copy of the album as it is one that you will want to keep on hand for repeat plays. The best option is to visit Bandcamp, where you can order a physical copy or grab an uncompressed download; available in many high-quality formats. In the nineteen fifties Ellington and Strayhorn penned a suite titled Such Sweet Thunder. They were referencing Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer night dream’; the full quotation being, ‘So musical a discord, such sweet thunder’.  Such sweet thunder certainly applies to this album. 

Myele Manzanza Bandcamp

‘A Love Requited’ Auckland: Myele Manzanza (drums, leader), Jonathan Crayford (keys), Johnny Lawrence (bass). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Anthology, K’Road, 10 July 2019

Album: Myele Manzanza, Matthew Sheens, Jake Baxendale, Ben Harrison, James Macauley, Jason McMahon, Adam Page, Django Rowe, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Brenton Foster, Jack Strempel

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

Myele Manzanza Trio

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The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is increasingly on the world Jazz circuit, but it also attracts a number of artists from around New Zealand.   This outreach is exactly what Roger Manins, Caroline Manins and Ben McNicholl had envisaged when the collective began.  The CJC’s prime purpose is to further Jazz and improvised music as an art form and to create an intimate performance space where projects can be realised.    This space is suited to listening audiences, which in turn spurs the musicians on.  The trio who performed on Wednesday appreciated that.  IMG_6436 - Version 2

On Wednesday we heard the Wellington based Myele Manzanza trio.  A drummer led band has a different feel to a piano led trio.  When a drummer is leader the drums are generally more forward in the mix than is otherwise the case.  This is the way of things and whether it’s Max Roach or Matt Wilson we expect to have the drums as a strong focus.  Myele Manzanza is a captivating drummer and I was immediately struck by how different he is to most Auckland drummers.  When I spoke to him later I went out on a limb by suggesting that his style was reminiscent of Manu Katche.  He told me that he had not heard him, but that others had said the same.

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According to Myele, Roger Manins suggested that they should push the boundaries.   Rising to that challenge the band hastily composed a tune for the gig.   The gig was a mix of standards, interesting takes on tunes not usually associated with jazz and a few originals.  The originals were often subjected to an angular approach and with pared back melody.   Their take on the Ellington tune ‘Caravan’ was probably the most conventional of their tunes but even then it was given individual treatment.  The pianist approached the tune in a percussive manner, but with right hand runs that were definitely post bop (a little like Michel Petrucciani was fond of doing).  Led by the drummer, time signatures morphed into various new patterns.

The Pianist Daniel Hayles often begins pieces with long ostinato intro’s and while not quite a minimalist, he never-the-less avoids excessive ornamentation.  I really warmed to him as the evening progressed and I found his approach modern and fresh (and often North European).  With Scott Maynard on bass the unit knitted together well.  Because of the way the tunes unfolded it was essential that he made his presence felt and he did.   In situations like this the bass often has to carry some extra weight.IMG_6431

Myele has spent time working in New York and he has studied under Jazz drummer E J Strickland.  I also know that he is passionate about Jazz, but why his band sounds different is because other very modern influences have seeped into the mix.   Myele Manzanza works with many ground breaking non-Jazz lineups and that is probably what he is best known for.   This brings me back to Manu Katche who is a very modern jazz drummer, but one who works across a variety of genres (Peter Gabriel and Sting).  Katche’s Jazz drumming is atypical and madly engaging.   Jazz should never stand still and this window on yet another approach to our music tells me that the exploration continues.

I hope that the band returns again as they expand our horizons while making us smile.   After thanking his band Myele Manzanza turned to the audience and said, “Thank you Auckland and the CJC.   This is an unusual situation for us.  An audience that listens appreciatively and doesn’t talk through the gig.   This is what Wellington lacks”.

Every city needs a CJC …and lots of nights like this.

Who: Myele Manzanza (Leader, drums), Daniel Hayles (Keys, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass).

When and Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building Brittomart, 20th march 2013

Note: Jazz April and International Jazz Day are nearly upon us.  Do your bit by supporting as much jazz as you can during April.

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