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StepTempest covers Sarah Manning “Harmonious Creature”…

The majority of the music alto saxophonist/composer Sarah Manning created for her 4th CD, “Harmonious Creature” (Posi-Tone Records), came from a month-long stay in 2012 at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  In fact, the first track of the recording, “Copland On Cornelia Street“, was inspired by the fact she stayed in a cabin that Aaron Copland had used many decades before.  Even though the Colony is in rural New Hampshire, the music on this CD has quite the urban sound.  The electric guitar of Jonathan Goldberger mixes with the hard-edged tones of Eyvind Kang‘s viola and the forceful rhythm section of drummer Jerome Jennings plus bassist Rene Hart to create an often crunchy yet open backdrop for Ms. Manning’s keening and melodious alto saxophone.  Several of the tunes have an unflagging intensity; “Floating Bridge” is a raucous romp, fueled by Jennings’ relentless drumming while the squalling  ballad “On The Beach” (a Neil Young composition) rises higher and higher on the strength of Kang’s moaning viola and Ms. Manning’s strident solo.

On the quieter side, there is an emotionally rich reading of Gillian Welch’s “I Dream A Highway” (the blend of viola and alto saxophone is other-worldly) and the handsome “Three Chords for Jessica” – the shimmering hand percussion of Jennings and Hart’s trance-like bass lines on the latter track are sparkling accompaniment for a engrossing long solo from the saxophonist.

There’s a “country” feel to the rhythm section and Goldberger’s guitar work on “What The Blues Left Behind“, all in support of a rustic melody.  The guitarist lets loose for a hearty solo, setting the stage for the leader to bring the piece back to the rustic melody.   “Grey Dawn, Red Fox” moves stealthily through a number of tempo changes as well as through shifts in sonorities.  Kang’s viola solo really captures the movements of the fox on a solo that is reminiscent of the sound of the late Billy Bang.

The quintet of musicians led by Sarah Manning make this music come alive at every turn.  That is a compliment to the intelligent compositions and arrangements of the leader.  “Harmonious Creature” takes elements of jazz, rock, folk and even country music to create its own unique musical environment, one that beckons the adventurous listener.