Sarah Manning – Harmonious Creature
This is the fourth CD from the US alto saxophonist and her second on this label. She has Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums.
It’s both straight down the line, small combo chamber jazz, and also something much fresher in conception. Partly it’s the instrumental line-up and the close, high harmonies that Manning writes for the three melody instruments, partly it’s the breadth of her musical hinterland: she is as interested in Aaron Copland as she is in John Zorn.
In fact, much of this album was written when Manning was working in a studio in the New Hampshire woods which Copland had occupied over 50 years earlier. The opening track is called Copland On Cornelia Street and imagines the composer investigating the late-night New York improvised scene. Grey Dawn, Red Fox is a highly evocative chase through the undergrowth, with saxophone, viola and guitar weaving about one another that Copland might have taken to had he heard it in an improv club.
Manning’s own playing can be keening and strident but always suitably so, and she is always searching fresh melodic paths – listen to the sax/drums section of Floating Bridge, with Jennings pushing hard and the leader thriving on the drive. Overall though, I find her writing and ensemble arranging more compelling than her soloing.
Kang, a frequent Bill Frisell collaborator with a particular penchant for the area where country fiddle meets jazz and classical string playing, is, of course, a delight.
The two non-originals echo the rural nature of the album – Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway, which develops into a compelling electro-static noise at thens, and Neil Young’s On The Beach – but if the album was conceived with country loam on the shoes, the downtown city grit is always felt beneath the sole.
A very striking album indeed.