New Listen: Manu Katché’s ‘Third Round’

MK 'Third Round'

Artist: Manu Katché
Album: Third Round (2010)

This disc, for me, is relatively new – about a month old.  However with this being the first post, I figure I’m allowed to fudge it a bit, especially considering how I haven’t been able to put this album down (even through more recent purchases/listens).  I blindly purchased this album on a whim, having never heard of Manu Katché.  What did catch my eye was the record label, ECM. ECM is arguably my favorite record label. Though it features a variety of artists from a wide array of both classical and jazz genres, there’s a consistency in attitude and ambience that has yet to let me down.  I’m sure I’ll discuss this company more in the future.  For now, Katché…

In brief, Katché has one foot planted firmly in jazz and another in pop, something I definitely relate to.  While I didn’t know that going in, I did notice on the CD’s  sleeve (ECM often features the cardboard sleeve) that the personnel include electric bassist Pino Palladino.  The usage of a regular rock/pop figure was intriguing for me. The full personnel lineup is as follows:
Tore Brunborg: saxophones
Manu Katché: drums
Kami Lyle: vocal (1 track), trumpet (2 tracks)
Pino Palladino: bass
Jason Rebello: piano
Jacob Young: guitars (3 tracks)

Following suit, this album walks a fine line between jazz and “pop” (in the broad definition of the term).  Most tunes are under five minutes and feature a great mix of catchy melodies, organically-abbreviated solos, and solid grooves.  As with most ECM releases, the mood is overall subdued, introspective, and relaxing.  However, a number of very infectious grooves also inspire dancing. 🙂  There’s no ego to be found on this record.  What you hear is the ensemble, with no one stepping on another’s toes.  In fact, you’d never know it was led by the drummer just from listening – not one drum solo is present.  Furthermore, a couple tracks feature no solos (or, rather, no full solos) – they serve more as transition pieces.  There’s a lot of nice work between Brunborg and Rebello, as a number of the melodies feature unison lines between sax and keys.  And Brunborg seamlessly transitions between tenor, alto, and soprano, offering nice changes in color throughout.  As indicated above, there are vocals on one piece, a song written by Katché and Lyle.  It’s a precious little pop ballad, and Lyle’s high, playful voice fits in just nicely.  Perhaps my favorite aspect of this album is the continuity.  While I do like each piece individually, the album as a whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  I largely only listen to this album in its entirety, at times consecutively.  It is seamless.

I’ve often considered this album a hybrid of the aesthetics of ECM and Marcus Miller.  While this album is nowhere near as in-your-face or “smooth” as Miller’s work, it does offer a rather “pop” take on the ECM vibe.  In doing so, this album could also serve as a great introduction to jazz – or simply instrumental – music for those who don’t know where to start.  (As for the latter, there is one tune with words to help cleanse the palette!)  For jazz fans, this offers something “pop-ish” without the brashness or cheese.  For fans of music in general, this is a great find, and I look forward to digging deeper into Manu Katché’s catalogue.

Album links:
Amazon
All About Jazz

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