Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Matt Ulery, Mannerist, Woolgathering ***1/2

Known for his work with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Grażyna Auguścik Matt Ulery as a leader has a discography stretching back a decade and a half with more than a dozen albums to the bassist's occasionally deployed bow, the last one Become Giant with …

Published: 2 May 2023. Updated: 13 months.

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Known for his work with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Grażyna Auguścik Matt Ulery as a leader has a discography stretching back a decade and a half with more than a dozen albums to the bassist's occasionally deployed bow, the last one Become Giant with Zach Brock and the KAIA String Quartet last year. Immediately on Mannerist enter again a chamber jazz domain, a style that is certainly what seems to be Ulery's main passion.

The recording feels populated, a crowd of sound fills your ears because it's not at all a one man and a dog kind of record. So no woofs. With a trio, pianist Paul Bedal and drummer Jon Deitemyer joining Ulery, three horn players and that ''crowd,'' if you like - an 11-piece woodwind and brass group while not at all an exact comparison Highway Rider territory springs to mind listening especially to 'Under a Dusken Crown'. But unlike that Brad Mehldau 2010 release, Ulery isn't as beholden or at all a willing captive crouching at the altar of Johannes Brahms. 'Left Window' is the most Mehldau-like of the piece incidentally where Bedal's about.

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One of the album's pieces 'The Prairie is a Rolling Ocean,' appeared in a slightly darker treatment on 2018's Sifting Stars (above). And all these years on as a showcase for the bassist's arranging skills Mannerist operates at a high functioning level. Occasional flashes of individualism such as the Dave Douglas-like break from long time musical colleague trumpeter James Davis who was on 2012's By a Little Light for example on 'Under a Dusken Crown' are break-out illuminations.

Claiming that Mannerist is like film music soundrack for a film that doesn't exist is a cliché but the thought could easily be indulged given its narrative cinematic style and be plucked by a director looking for music as the beginning of a journey towards a new score. What that movie would be might amount to a bittersweet family drama set in the mid-west of the USA. You get a sense of heartbreak that is being processed on 'The Brink of What' for example. Ulery says that the piece starts ''with a dynamic ballad inspired by the spirit of Duke Ellington’s music'' although without knowing that it would be hard to make that connection on a blind listen. Later 'Another Book of Ornaments,' was inspired by the title of a drawing the bassist saw at the Art Institute of Chicago. More than decent overall like a road trip companion sort of album you happily buddy along with. Matt Ulery, photo: Devin Ulery.

Mannerist is released on Friday. 'The Brink of What,' the second of the 6 pieces, is streaming

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Jakob Manz, Groove Connection, ACT ***1/2

A pretty soulful guilty pleasure of an album delivered to the max by young German saxophonist Jakob Manz (a monster player at just 21) keeping stellar company here and more than riding high with everyone. If you know the sound in this context of UK …

Published: 1 May 2023. Updated: 13 months.

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A pretty soulful guilty pleasure of an album delivered to the max by young German saxophonist Jakob Manz (a monster player at just 21) keeping stellar company here and more than riding high with everyone. If you know the sound in this context of UK player Tom Waters (son of boogie-woogie giant Ben Waters) then you'll be in your element with Manz. The band includes bass guitar titan Tim Lefebvre and keyboardist Roberto Di Gioia who has written several of the tunes. The wisdom of including an R Kelly song - 'I Look To You' as it happens - is a moot point. But very well interpreted by Manz it is who meshes intuitively with guitarist Bruno Müller aptly arpeggiating. It is of course an incredibly beautiful ballad wondrously sung by Whitney Houston on her last studio album released in 2009. The Manz treatment here is the best thing of all here by quite a way and a must. Other covers include a standout treatment of the African-American spiritual 'Wade in the Water' and the Lionel Richie classic 'Dancing on the Ceiling'. Fear not it doesn't become too like a wedding party evening do. Manz proves at home particularly with the 1980s elements of the song choices for sure.

Ubiquitous recent Adele classic 'Easy on Me' is also here. And again Manz nails it and the band grooves behind him, taking the tempo up a bit, very pleasingly. A new David Sanborn in the making? Who knows. But very possibly and already a made jazzer: he must have been woodshedding when still in the womb. Manz speaks to the soul when he plays the saxophone and isn't afraid to tackle the familiar. A winning guest slot by Sardinian master Paolo Fresu muted against a vital Lefebvre line arrives at the beginning wrapped up inside rolling trombone riffery from Karin Hammar on 'Jazz is a Spirit.'

Jakob Manz, photo: Gregor Hohenberg/ACT