Review: Manner Effect at the Metropolitan Room

April 12, 2011 at 3:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of the great paradoxes of jazz is that it simultaneously celebrates the individual and requires a strong group dynamic. As jazz becomes classified more and more as “art music,” presenters are becoming increasingly likely to promote and celebrate individual genius, and nearly all of the top groups today clearly name a leader, effectively reducing the group’s other members to supportive accompanists. Manner Effect – a new quintet based in New York City – flouts this trend, presenting an authentic collective. They share the writing duties, take turns announcing the tunes, and sound altogether fluid and cohesive.

This one-for-all attitude is especially impressive because the group includes a singer, the remarkable Sarah Elizabeth Charles. On many of the tunes, Charles functions essentially like a horn – a mellower compliment to Caleb Curtis’ alto saxophone – singing wordless melodies and taking scat solos alongside the other instrumentalists. Listening to Charles’ impressively in-tune vocals is like chewing an inexhaustibly sweet piece of gum – Ms. Charles’ voice periodically injects the group’s sound with an extra burst of flavor, utilizing highly varied syllables, timbres, and dynamics to keep the audience’s attention piqued.

The set opens with an R&B-influenced arrangement of “Sandu” by pianist Logan Thomas, impressively re-energizing a Clifford Brown tune that has otherwise stagnated as an overplayed jazz session standard. Thomas, who also contributes a lush original called “Abundance,” improvises with the same boundless adventurousness as a young Herbie Hancock, and he sounds particularly comfortable playing on another R&B-influenced tune, the Charles-penned “Longing.” Saxophonist Curtis comes from a more straight-ahead jazz background, and his gritty tone and rhythmic dodging and swerving are best compared to Cannonball Adderley, although Curtis possesses more modern sensibilities. His arrangement of “Cry Me a River” features a slinky, irregular ostenato whose repetition seems to represent the boiling rage of the brokenhearted speaker.

While these soloists take center stage, bassist PJ Roberts and drummer Josh Davis skip along tastefully beneath, often commenting but never interrupting; despite relatively complex arrangements, their rhythmic drive never wavers, and the joyous edge of the beat never dulls. Because of Roberts and Davis’ obvious report, each solo transitions undisturbed into the next, making each piece feel like a story told by a series of different storytellers, rather than a lineup of instrumentalists merely exhibiting their skills.

As the group prepares for their closer, a backbeat-driven version of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” Charles announces the song as “our favorite.” Of course, it comes as no surprise that a group who shares everything shares a favorite song, too.

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