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Burning Ambulance interviews Sarah Manning and discusses her career and her latest release “Harmonious Creature”…

“I’d Rather Say Too Little Than Say Too Much”: An Interview With Sarah Manning


Alto saxophonist Sarah Manning‘s fourth album, Harmonious Creature, is out now on Posi-Tone (buy it from Amazon). Manning’s patient, thoughtful phrasing—reminiscent of Charles Lloyd—is matched on the album (which contains eight originals and covers ofGillian Welch‘s “I Dream a Highway” and Neil Young‘s “On the Beach”) by Eyvind Kang‘s droning, precisely tuned viola, with a rhythm section of guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Jerome Jennings keeping things rock steady, whether they’re swinging hard, as on the fiercely boppish “Floating Bridge,” or gently swaying, as on the album’s final track, “What the Blues Left Behind.”

Instrumental tone is crucial to the music on Harmonious Creature. Manning herself has an affinity for long notes and slowly unfolding phrases, and her alto rarely if ever heads into the piercing range popularized by Ornette Coleman; she’s got a mellow, caramel-like sound. As a co-lead instrument, Kang’s viola doesn’t just harmonize with the saxophone, though there are plenty of unison lines that combine jazz and folk into a kind of eerily lonesome music perfect for soundtracking indie movies about murder in the woods; toward the end of the group’s interpretation of “I Dream a Highway,” a soft noise-drone rises slowly beneath Goldberger’s guitar, reminding listeners that Kang has worked with avant-metallers Sunn O))) as well as in jazz contexts. Goldberger can shift back and forth between conventionally jazzy leads and hazily reverbed background chords as necessary. Hart’s bass has a barbed twang; he plays it like he carved it himself. Jennings’ drums are tuned for sharp snapping and metallic ringing, as befitting the sharp edges created by the front-line instruments’ interactions. At times, he adds an almost martial beat to pieces that might otherwise drift away. Everything coheres in a clean and organic manner—no one is drowned out or overmatched.

Harmonious Creature is a unique, even slightly weird album; it’s definitely jazz, but there are elements of hillbilly music, Jewish music, modern classical, and more. It’s a unique statement from a composer confident in her own voice and wise in choosing collaborators to realize her ideas.

Manning answered a few questions about the album, and her approach to music-making, via email; the interview is after the jump.


The pieces on this album span a fairly broad range—”Copland on Cornelia Street” feels derived from folk music more than jazz, for example, while the Gillian Welch tune, “I Dream a Highway,” is very bluesy and “Floating Bridge” is pretty aggressive and very “jazzy.” Were these all written together with an eye toward making an album, or are they pieces that came together one at a time and were collated?
I still think of albums as conceptual rather than collections of pieces, and so I definitely wrote the music for the album with the idea of it being a larger work in and of itself. For me, the unifying thread is the instrumentation—the combination of alto, viola and guitar create a myriad of possibilities that do have a bit of a dance into other genres that comes organically. In addition, my studio at the MacDowell Colony, where four of the pieces arose in October of 2012, was in the dense New Hampshire woods. With all sorts of creatures around me as I worked, including a barn owl that swiveled its head at me while I was under its tree, blues and roots and folk seeped in. “Copland on Cornelia Street” was one of those pieces, and had to be written, since I was working in a studio thatAaron Copland himself occupied in 1956! I think he left some bright wide intervals lying around in there.

There are some strong elements of drone in this music—as a composer, are you more of a fan of long tones rather than quick, boppish phrases?
Well, long tones are the foundation of my existence. As a saxophonist, I practice them almost as a meditation, with a tuner set to a foundational pitch and with incense and Oolong tea. As a composer right now I’ve been very focused on texture which lends itself to sonic landscapes without a lot of busy phrases. As a player I do always strive to add more faster lines into my vocabulary, but I don’t want to force them with so many mathematical formulas. When I was younger, when I listened to Charlie Parker or John Coltrane I was drawn to the pyrotechnics, but now I’m drawn to the things they leave out. Rather, how they balance the pyrotechnics with musicality and deep expression. I’d rather say too little than say too much. Clearly, this is contrary to my speaking style. Ha.

Eyvind Kang is based on the West Coast, so obviously this can’t be a working band in the traditional sense. How did these musicians come together, and how much rehearsal and time together did you have before recording?
You know, even if we all lived on the same block it would be just as difficult to have a working band. Everyone needs to put food on the table so with dwindling venues most players are going to work wherever they need to which takes priority over the concept of a band. That said, there are certainly opportunities to tour with musicians, regardless of where they live. For this project, I’d been playing with Rene and Jerome for about a year. Heard Jonathan through a Zion80 show at the Stone and some crazy texture he was creating caused me to play some harmonics I didn’t even know I could play and I thought, this is the right guitarist. I’ve always loved Eyvind’s tone and was writing the music with it in mind until I got to the point where it didn’t make sense not to work together. We had a couple rehearsals and a show and then it was into the studio for a day. This kind of total immersion is cathartic.

The harmonies between your saxophone and his viola are very compelling in a way that two horns might not be. What made you decide that was the sound to go for on this record?
Sound is the major thing that drives me as a player, and the perfected tone of Eyvind’s viola is very similar to my timbre on the alto. When I listened back to studio takes, I almost couldn’t tell us apart a couple of times. So I think it’s an intriguing draw for the ear as if there was another alto made of wood and string. I’ve always been influenced by the sound of Bill Frisell‘s record Quartet which has Eyvind, Ron Miles and Curtis Fowlkes, and so that sound was something I had in mind. But when we started playing together, the extreme accuracy of intonation and purity of Eyvind’s sound brought my own tone to a different place that was really thrilling and challenging to explore.

There are no jazz standards on this album, but you did record a song by Gillian Welch and one by Neil Young. What inspired those choices, and how much work did you do on those tracks to bring them into line with the rest of the disc?
Producer Marc Free always likes the artists on Posi-Tone to include a couple of “standards,” which he defines as a bridge to an audience who may know the tune and as a result find a way to your own compositions. He wants those tunes to be authentic representations of what the artist listens to, and these two songs by Neil Young and Gillian Welch were ones that have obsessively occupied places in my headphones. Both of the “arrangements” of these tunes were more of a loose idea of shape. The results were improvised and so it’s really a question of taking the band sound and applying it to the tunes rather than doing any real “work.” With “On the Beach” we did a take that was more structured and it didn’t really work. Eyvind and Jonathan’s eerie soundscape, coupled with Rene and Jerome driving the rhythm forward, just took on a life of its own and the tune became more of a deconstruction. Though actually, the form is still there and Rene’s referencing the melody in the bass at the very end.


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Victor Aaron weighs in on Sarah Manning “Harmonious Creature” for SomethingElse Reviews…

Four years ago, up-and-coming alto saxophonist Sarah Manning marked her arrival to the NYC scene with her first album with Posi-Tone, Dandelion Clock (2010), and it made waves. She impressed as both a performer and composer with this record, and it led me to believe that even more ambitious things were in store the next time around. Inspired by a fellowship in composition at the McDowell Colony, that promise came to fruition:Harmonious Creature marks real artistic growth for an artist who was already striking her own path.


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Midwest Record reviews Steve Davis and Sarah Manning Cds…..

STEVE DAVIS/For Real:  Kicking it off with some classic feeling soul/jazz/funk,
Davis and his crew find that sweet spot where mainstream and post bop collide in
a bouncy ball fun house.  Ensemble playing that doesn’t miss a beat, this set of
all originals  never takes you to that place where you start wishing the gang would
break into something like “Compared to What?” so your ears can feel on familiar ground.
Smoking, tasty stuff throughout, this is a must for the sitting down jazz fans that
like to bounce in their seats as the groove unfurls.  Solid!8116
SARAH MANNING/Harmonious Creature:  Some might find this improvising sax player an
acquired taste, and a lot of them would be right.  With her roots in the free jazz
sound of the sixties, it’s sounds like she’s never paid her dues in a church basement
even if she’s made some off beat stops along the way.  An arts council darling, she
knows how to make free jazz for parents that have to get the sitter home early because
it’s a school night.8117
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All About Jazz reviews our new CD by saxophonist Sarah Manning “Harmonious Creature”…

In order to create the music for Harmonious Creatures, saxophonist Sarah Manning had to put the hustle and bustle behind her. She picked herself up and took to the woods, composing and communing with nature at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where she was living out her time as a MacDowell fellow in October of 2012. The time she spent at that artist’s refuge gave her a chance to reflect, bridge worlds, and blur lines in her compositions. The serenity of the woods and the constant motion of modern day life now come together as one in her work.

Harmonious Creatures presents a more emotionally balanced voice than the one heard on the critically acclaimed Dandelion Clock (Posi-Tone, 2010), but the already-established tart-toned and acerbic nature of Manning’s horn still shines through here; it’s just seen in a different light now. On Dandelion Clock her horn stood out in sharp relief against the piano trio that worked with her, but here her horn is fully integrated with the other aural elements at play. Violist Eyvind Kang, perhaps best known for his work with guitarist Bill Frisell, joins Manning in the front line and operates in a similar sonic space; never have a viola and alto saxophone sounded so in tune with one another. The other X factor here is guitarist Jonathan Goldberger. His hallucinatory twangs and strums add volumes to the musical atmosphere; when all three parties converge, collide or cross paths, the resultant music is heady and spellbinding.

Manning’s work can be alluring, focused, and free spirited all at once (“Three Chords For Jessica”). Her never-derivative saxophone blowing can be barbed (“Floating Bridge”) or beautifully direct (“I Dream A Highway”), and her boundless creativity often surfaces in the most surprising of places (Neil Young’s “On The Beach”). Her simpatico band mates mirror her mood swings and follow her through the highs and lows here. Sonic thickets abound, but so do clearings in the pasture.

Sarah Manning proves to be a harmonious creature herself, capable of balancing order and chaos, shadows and light, and the simple and complex without issue. In an age when many a critic has bemoaned the homogenization of saxophonists on the scene, Sarah Manning is proof that personality can still triumph over standardization; Manning stands apart from the sea of sound-alikes.
Track Listing: Copland On Cornelia Street; Tune Of Cats; Floating Bridge; I Dream A Highway; Grey Dawn, Red Fox; Radish Spirit; Three Chords For Jessica; Don’t Answer To The Question; On The Beach; What The Blues Left Behind.

Personnel: Sarah Manning: alto saxophone; Eyvind Kang: viola; Jonathan Goldberger: guitar; Rene Hart: bass; Jerome Jennings: drums.

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Brent Black reviews Sarah Manning “Dandelion Clock”…

Far more than a pretty face finds alto saxophonist Sarah Manning walking the musical tightrope between the more free form and the more accessible with the result a perfect balance of artistic flavor and texture without ever pushing the listener over the edge with self indulgence. One key element of Dandelion Clock that seems to leap out and ironically a stated goal of Manning’s is the more working band approach of a jazz day long since gone. Today we have individual stars fronting quartets with even most fans hard pressed to name all participants. Manning has the prolific talents of Art Hirahara on piano along with a seasoned bassist in Linda Oh and drummer Kyle Struve who is far more than a human metronome here as he owns the pocket.
Having often used the term sonic exploratory to describe a musician that is attempting to reach deep. Sarah Manning performs far more than a sonic exploratory she digs deep and goes well past the heart and shares a piece of her musical soul, her sonic DNA and we are the better for it. Manning’s sonic is edgy, Sonny Stitt meets David Sanborn for that unique hybrid that seems to be sneaking into the straight ahead scene for a more throwback lyrical sound yet somehow accessible from a more contemporary perspective. “The Peacocks” opens the release and is a perfect example of a controlled lyrical sonic fury. This Jimmy Rowles classic has never sounded more alive than in Manning’s most capable hands. The only other cover on this release which ironically closes Dandelion Clock is the Michele LeGrand tune “Windmills Of Your Mind.” Manning is fearless on the LeGrand tune placing her own indelible stamp on a classic. The remaining tunes are all Manning compositions which should have a great many heads turning. “Marble” is an odd metered gem punctuated with shifting harmonics and a solo from Hirahara that seems to bring all participants back to the slightly more abstract sense of melody that permeates this release. There are a great many young players that hang out in odd meter or subscribe to the speed is king philosophy as there seems to be that concern of becoming the next big thing as opposed to developing an artistic voice. Manning is an edgy and hard charging post bop player. There is also a keen sense of melody and Manning is clearly hearing lyrical lines differently than most players. “Crossing Waiting” is another incredibly original tune staring off like something out of the Charlie Parker songbook only to be magically transformed into a tune with plenty of gas in the tank as pianist Hirahara turns in a performance reminiscent of Herbie Hancock on steroids. The subtle finesse of bassist Oh and drummer Struve give up something new with each subsequent spin of the disc.
Dandelion Clock does more than push the sonic envelope, it goes out registered mail. Far more of a sonic adventure than any Posi-Tune release I have heard thus far it is as engaging and captivating a release as you will find in their catalog. Accessible yet slightly more free form than most releases there is an intoxicating organic presentation that allows the freedom and sonic pulse to develop naturally thus making this one of the finer discs you may have missed over the past two years.
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Sarah Manning is Jason Crane’s guest on “The Jazz Session”….

Posted under PodcastSaxophonists

The Jazz Session #247: Sarah Manning [45:06] Hide PlayerPlay in PopupDownload


Saxophonist Sarah Manning brings her personal approach to the sound of the saxophone to her newest recording, Dandelion Clock (Posi-Tone, 2010). In this interview, Manning talks about how she focuses on sound in her playing; the way she assembled her band; and why she’s happy she took risks on this record. Learn more at

Tracks used in this episode: The Peacocks; Marble; The Owls (Are On The March); Through The Keyhole; Habersham Street; Dandelion Clock; Windmills Of Your Mind.

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Here’s a new All About Jazz feature article about Posi-Tone Records!!!

When Posi-Tone Records founder Marc Free was growing up, he looked forward to each new record purchase, cherishing the cover artwork, devouring the liner notes and most of all, feasting on the music. He came to love the music and albums issued by iconic labels such as Blue Note and Impulse!, knowing that even if he hadn’t heard of the artist, it was likely to be a quality recording by a great musician.

And when Free launched Posi-Tone in 1994, he made those remembrances his business plan.

“I hadn’t intended it; it wasn’t my dream,” says Free of the company’s founding. “It was kind of an outgrowth of other things.”

Technically, he started his record-producing career when he built a studio in his mother’s house, ala Rudy Van Gelder, the Blue Note engineering master whose work set the standard for sound and quality in the 1950s. Free had even hoped to make a documentary on Van Gelder at one point, conducting interviews and gathering research, but the project ultimately fell apart.

“He didn’t think a documentary was the right way to tell the story and he never gave me the permission to do it,” says Free.

A jazz guitarist, Free used his studio space to record friends and other musicians whose music he enjoyed. A chance to record multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers performing at Los Angeles’ Jazz Bakery in 2002 led to a decision to turn the underground label into a “real business.”

“We try to make records we want to listen to,” he says.

At a time many labels struggle to find a niche, Posi-Tone has emerged with a solid lineup of well-crafted recordings, packaged in distinctive cardboard sleeves. Rather than focus on a particular genre of music, Posi-Tone’s stable of artists are picked by Free and partner/engineer Nick O’Toole.

“What we decided to do was go out to New York three or four times per year to scout for talent,” Free says. “That’s where the musicians who are more serious about making a career in jazz are.”

When a potential Posi-Tone artist is found, Free says the label will record them in a New York studio, such as Acoustic Recording Brooklyn or System 2 studios, also in Brooklyn. The masters are then taken to Los Angeles for post-production work.

This method has connected the label to a diverse collection of musicians, including saxophonist Sarah Manning, trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Jim Rotondi. Free notes he doesn’t sign artists to long-term deals, and allows them to retain all of the publishing rights to their music.

“I can’t tell you how many people in the recording business told me I was crazy,” he says. “[One record company executive] said, ‘your roster of artists and publishing rights is what you build your business on.’ And I said, ‘No, my label’s reputation is what I’m building my business on.'”

Which, Free says, strikes at the biggest hurdle facing new artists and new labels in today’s marketplace: reissues. A quick look at the upcoming releases page on AAJ shows a deluge of reissued jazz recordings every month, with new CDs which repackage and reissue works by everyone from bandleader Artie Shaw to saxophonist Zoot Sims. This means a young artist doesn’t only have to compete with other musicians of today, but those from the last 80 years as well.

“I have a hard time competing with John Coltrane when he’s got 60 years of marketing behind him,” Free says.

The problem, as Free sees it, is the copyright act of 1978, which extended the time before the rights to musical compositions pass into public domain from 28 to 75 years. This meant the recording companies who owned the rights to music and recordings made in the 1950s and 1960s can continue to produce and sell the music for years. Hence the belief that building the back catalogue is the key to a label’s survival.

“All of us are struggling with these issues all the time,” says Free.

Another issue confronting labels concerns digital distribution: Free is sticking to emphasizing direct sales of physical CDs because he says the economics just don’t work with downloads. He says the average online customer won’t download a full CD, reducing the revenue to the label (and artist) to a fraction of what CDs net. Consequently, he says he would need to sell to 14 online customers to realize what he can earn for one CD sale.

“The music isn’t in any danger, but the record labels making recordings may well be,” Free says. He’s marketing the company’s releases through Amazon, the label’s website and with distributors outside the United States. “We’re seeing tremendous response to our efforts.”

Summing his philosophy up, Free says: “The answer is to make more and better records.

“We’re good for jazz, we’re good for business and we make good records.”

Selected Posi-Tone releases

Doug Webb




Hooking up with bassist Stanley Clarke and keyboard player Larry Goldings for a set of sweetly swinging chestnuts has saxophonist Webb playing in fine form. Although a session veteran, this is Webb’s first release as a headliner and it gives him a chance to stand out. Webb plays with smooth tone and uses the full range of his tenor, which works well on ballads such as “I’ll Be Around” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Webb builds his solos skillfully and is matched by the quality of Clarke’s and Goldings’ turns. Clarke offers a deep acoustic bass sound throughout, getting some amazingly legato notes that fill the quartet’s sound.

Sarah Manning
Dandelion Clock

The demure face looking up from the cover of Dandelion Clock contrasts Manning’s often aggressive, experimental style, as she plays over a collection of original tunes and two covers, Michel Legrand‘s “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “The Peacocks” by Jimmy Rowles.

Her compositions offer enough harmonic room for Manning to craft exploring solos, often using long runs that seem to end in question marks. Never one to settle for an easy note choice when there’s a more interesting one available, her solos soar in such post-bop ballads as “Marbles” and “Habersham Street.”

Orrin Evans
Faith in Action

Evans has been growing into a major figure in jazz piano, thanks to releases as strong as his 2010 release in tribute to saxophonist Bobby Watson. Combining his own compositions and five by Watson, Evans plays smoothly through oblique runs and blues turns on solos, and lets his accompanists—which include bassist Luques Curtis and drummers Nasheet Waits, Rocky Bryant and Gene Jackson—provide a solid base for his work.

Watson’s “Appointment in Milano” features a pounding bottom underneath Evans’ swift runs, which alternate between sweet scales and modal triplets. The delightful “Beattitudes,” another Watson gem, combines an airy intro with a gentle melody. Musicians know it takes more to keep a ballad moving than a burning up-tempo number, and Evans shows his real chops on this one.

Brandon Wright
Boiling Point

Saxophonist Wright is clearly a student of the 1960s, and these eight tunes—including five original compositions—show he learned well. This is a disc fans of swinging, smoky jazz will favor. Wright never overplays and fits in pianist David Kikoski‘s playing marvelously. Case in point, the interplay on Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Here’s That Rainy Day.” With Kikoski comping sweetly, Wright gets just enough blues to keep his solo emotional without going saccharine. On the other side of the coin, the interplay between Wright, Kikoski and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin at the crescendo near the end of the samba-based “Castaway” is a real treat. All are playing hard but not over each other.

Jim Rotondi
1000 Rainbows

Rotondi’s smooth chops and smart tune selection make this a delicious outing. Playing alongside a capable four-piece band, including Joe Locke on vibes, Danny Grissett on piano, bassist Barak Mori and Bill Stewart on drums, Rotondi shines on his compositions “Bizzaro World,” “One for Felix” and “Not Like This,” a beautiful ballad duet with Locke.


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New Voices: Sarah Manning, John Escreet, Kneebody


Sarah Manning
Dandelion Clock

Jazz is like the human body. It needs fresh air, constant activity and a steady of nutrients to stay hale and hearty. Conversely, if all the genre does is sit in a comfy chair and try to live on what came before, it becomes sedentary, incurious and—ultimately—self destructive. Fortunately, the young keep jazz active and alive. Here are a few examples of the new kids on the block. past a first impression can be tough, but sometimes that’s what has to happen in order to get the full measure of a musician. That’s the hill that has to be climbed to get a complete sense of reed player Sarah Manning‘s debut,Dandelion Clock. Don’t worry, though—the ascent is only a little steep.

Manning opens with Jimmy Rowles‘ “The Peacocks,” which is a steep hill to climb in and of itself. Saxophonist Stan Getz‘s prototypical version was wrapped so tightly inside a mournful, romantic longing, it could have been used to score Roman Polanski’s film noir homage, Chinatown. Although pianist Art Hirahara and bassist Linda Oh add touches of mystery and drama to the piece, Manning simply pumps up the volume and shows how strong she can bring it. Unfortunately, this approach is the equivalent of trying to kill a butterfly with a hammer. It also discounts the vulnerability—however fleeting—in Rowles’ protagonist. There’s no question Manning’s got the chops, but this was the wrong way to show them off.

If Manning had spent the rest of the disc going pedal-to-the-metal, this review would be a lot more painful. But once Manning starts playing her own material, her comfort zone widens noticeably. She dances with assurance on the waltzing “Marble,” taking her alto sax into soprano territory and operating with great ease. “Through The Keyhole” offers a peek into a world that’s both exciting and intriguing, and Manning laces the title track (inspired by a Mary K. Robinson poem) with an Eastern tone that expands the piece’s exotic qualities. The lost-love song “Habersham Street” has the approach and the tone “Peacocks” could have used, but the track is so good that past missteps can be forgiven.

While Manning’s partners made “Peacocks” passable, the rest of their performances make Dandelion something to stick with. Hirahara’s piano offers both support and counterpoint to Manning’s reedwork; his eloquent solo on “Habersham” is as enticing as the blazing fire he brings to “Phoenix Song.” Oh’s bass lines are thick as a brick, with the kind of command that’s more readily associated with more experienced players. “Crossing, Waiting” may be a trio piece (Hirahara lays out on this track), but Oh’s monumental aggression makes Manning superfluous and inspires drummer Kirk Struve to kick it up six or seven notches.

As previously noted, Sarah Manning’s got the tools, but it takes a while to see her depth and potential. Patience is a rare commodity these days, but that’s what’s needed to get to the really good stuff on Dandelion Clock.

Visit Sarah Manning on the web.

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Another compelling writeup for Sarah Manning “Dandelion Clock”….

by Tim Niland
Studying with jazz iconoclasts like Jackie McLean and Yusef Lateef has given Sarah Manning the confidence to develop her own conception of jazz music. Employing a tart and immediate tone on alto saxophone and supported by pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Kyle Struve, she explores eleven compositions, both standards and originals. “The Peacocks” opens the album with pinched acerbic alto saxophone and lush piano. Manning’s dark toned alto floats over an atmospheric, rippling backdrop to good effect. She is very successful with the ballad “Habersham Street,” employing a yearning tone over emotional, nearly romantic piano support. An impressive unaccompanied alto section allows her to fly solo with dramatic and effective results. “I Tell Time by the Dandelion Clock” broods moodily before picking up to an insistent trio section and pinched alto saxophone solo. “The Owls (Are on the March)” is the centerpiece of the album, opening spare and spacious and then building suite-like through sections of march drumming with saxophone and an expansive piano – saxophone duet. “Phoenix Song” builds the pace to a sing-song feel and solid medium tempo quartet swing. After a rippling piano trio feature, Manning’s strong saxophone returns in a dialogue trading nimble phrases with the drummer Struve. This was a very solid album of modern mainstream jazz. The most impressive thing for me was the strong and piercing tone that Sarah Manning has developed on her instrument, she is well on her way to the holy grail that musicians strive for, “finding their own voice.” Linda Oh (who released a great album of her own last year) is excellent as well with rock solid accompaniment and inventive soloing.