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Sarah Manning “Harmonious Creature” is a DownBeat Editor’s Pick…

Sarah Manning‚ Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone)
Alto saxophonist Sarah Manning asserts her individuality on this disc‚ which brings together jazz‚ elements of American folk music and a Neil Young cover. Manning assembled an unusual quintet for this outing—Eyvind Kang‚ viola; Jonathan Goldberger‚ guitar; Rene Hart‚ bass; Jerome Jennings‚ drums—and each player brings their own forward-thinking ideas to the table. On “Copland On Cornelia Street‚” which invokes the American composer Aaron Copland and the New York jazz venue Cornelia Street Cafe‚ Manning and Kang blend their instruments beautifully. Goldberger’s guitar solo here is a rhythmic‚ effects-driven sound sculpture: He sustains a background drone while freely cross-picking and meshing single notes à la Bill Frisell. The album title‚ Harmonious Creature‚ and songs like “Grey Dawn‚ Red Fox” and “Radish Spirit‚” reveal Manning’s affinity for the natural world‚ and this music has an earthy‚ woodsy quality. (She worked on the album in a rural New Hampshire studio‚ where Copland also stayed in 1956.) For the interpretation of Young’s “On The Beach‚” Kang creates squealing‚ bagpipe-like sounds‚ while Jennings bangs out a heavy beat. The group works itself into a fuzzed-out frenzy‚ taking the song to an apex that the overdrive-loving Young would probably dig. Just as trumpeter Dave Douglas used bluegrass vocalist Aoife O’Donovan to great effect on 2012’s Be Still (Greenleaf)‚ Manning’s cover of the folk singer-songwriter Gillian Welch’s “I Dream A Highway” is another example of how jazz musicians can strike gold in the vista of American roots music. Manning offers an enchanting but succinct version of Welch’s expansive‚ 14-minute tune‚ creating a haunting interpretation that lingers in the listener’s mind long after the music stops.