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Glen Manby



by Ian Mann

January 05, 2017


An impressive album from Manby who acquits himself well in such stellar company and provides some engaging original material for his all star guests to get their teeth into.

Glen Manby


(Mainstem Productions MSTCD0059)

Glen Manby is an alto saxophonist and composer based in Cardiff who has been a mainstay of the South Wales Jazz scene for many years leading his own small groups ranging from trio to quintet.
I first recall seeing him play way back in 1994 when he led his quartet in a performance at the now long defunct Cardiff Bay International Jazz Festival.

Manby was also a member of the cult Cardiff band - and Brecon Jazz Festival favourites - The Root Doctors led by trombonist/vocalist Mike Harries. Currently he is a member of Chapter Four, the house band at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre and is also a part of various ensembles led by composer Paul Hornsby including big band The Collective and the newly formed eight piece Octopia.

Apart from regular gigging with a wide range of musicians, both local and national, Manby has found time to study jazz more formally in New York, Lausanne and Cardiff and currently holds a part time teaching post at the Music School of Cardiff University.

In early 2015 he visited Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny to perform an enjoyable standards set with a quartet of South Wales based musicians including pianist Jim Barber, bassist Don Sweeney and drummer Greg Evans. It was in the wake of our meeting at that gig that Glen recently contacted me to forward a copy of this new quintet CD for review purposes, so my thanks to him for that.

During his degree studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff Manby was taught by the highly respected trumpeter Steve Waterman who returns the favour here by joining Manby in the front line of a stellar quintet featuring leading London based musicians Leon Greening (piano), Adam King (double bass) and Matt Home (drums).

The recording of “Homecoming” was financed by an Arts Council of Wales Project Grant with further support coming from the Chapter Arts Centre. 

Manby cites his primary influences as being fellow alto players Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods. He has also mentioned the inspiration of such lesser known figures as Andrew Speight, Australian born but now based in San Francisco, and the late Latin jazz saxophonist Mario Rivera.

Looking at Manby’s list of heroes it comes as no surprise to discover that the music to be heard on “Homecoming” is largely rooted in the classic hard bop era.  Less predictable is the fact that seven of the ten pieces are Manby originals with the outside material coming from such respected figures as Wayne Shorter, Kenny Dorham and Quincy Jones. Manby’s own tunes are written very much in the hard bop idiom but they more than hold their own, especially when played by such an all star band as this.

The album commences with Manby’s “Night Flight”which is introduced by Greening’s piano but features the peerless Waterman as the first soloist, playing with his customary inventiveness and fluency. Greening follows and displays similar qualities as the selfless Manby allows his colleagues to establish their identities. Finally it’s Manby’s turn, his pithy solo channelling the spirits of his alto heroes. Manby, Waterman and Greening then trade ideas with Home, the drummer clearly relishing his series of fiery breaks.

Also by Manby the ballad “Farewell” changes the mood with delightfully relaxed performances from the leader on alto and Waterman on flugel. Young bassist Adam King impresses with a melodic solo as does Greening with his lyrical lightness of touch at the piano. Meanwhile, Home is the epitome of good taste throughout with his delicately brushed drums.

The first of the outside pieces is Wayne Shorter’s classic “Yes Or No” which sees Manby and Waterman teaming up in highly effective fashion, the blending of their horns is a delight throughout the album. It’s the leader who takes the first solo, probing in authoritative fashion on alto before handing over to the inventive and expansive Greening. Waterman follows on trumpet, playing with a breezy assurance before linking up with Manby again for a reprise of the theme.

Manby’s “Boss Bop Bossa” introduces a Latin twist and is played in a relaxed fashion that is sometimes reminiscent of Stan Getz. There are coolly elegant solos from Waterman on flugel and Greening on piano with Manby adopting a slightly more incisive tone on alto.

Home’s drums introduce the effervescent bebop flavourings of “Skippy” which incorporates a sparkling Greening solo followed by ebullient features from Manby and Waterman plus lively features for both King and Home.

Another Manby original, “Mayfly”, lowers the temperature a little, with its delightful melody the basis for the composer’s saxophone embellishments followed by Greening’s flowing piano solo. There’s more melodic bass inventions from King on a piece that actually sees Waterman sitting out.

Not surprisingly Waterman is back for “Us (Uns Mas)”, a composition by the celebrated hard bop era trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Although very much of its time the piece remains an exciting vehicle for improvisers and listeners alike and its twisting contours provide the framework for bright and inventive solos from Waterman on trumpet, Manby on alto and Greening on piano as King and Home offer intelligent and encouraging support.

Manby’s own “Heimweh” also explores archetypal hard bop virtues with engaging and expansive solos from Greening, Waterman and Manby with the trumpeter contributing some particularly impressive high register playing.

A delightful quartet version of Quincy Jones’ “Quintessence” represents the album’s second true ballad and features some of Manby’s tenderest alto playing, although a certain McLean like ‘edge’ is never too far away. Greening is at his most lyrical at the piano as King and Home offer intelligent and understated support.

The album concludes with the title track which has an appropriately celebratory feel about it as the horns of Manby and Waterman take flight buoyed by the lively rhythms of their colleagues. But it’s the consistently impressive Greening, who shines throughout the album as both soloist and accompanist, who takes the first solo. He’s followed by Waterman and Manby who share solos before coalescing once more in a restatement of the theme. 

Although there’s nothing startlingly original here this is still an impressive album from Manby who acquits himself well in such stellar company and provides some engaging original material for his all star guests to get their teeth into. Everybody plays well throughout and the musicians are well served by Manby’s crisp production, which saw him working with engineer Andrew Lawson of Fieldgate Studios in Penarth where the album was recorded. 

Manby continues to gig on a regular basis in South Wales with a variety of different line ups but any opportunity to see him performing with the quintet that appears on this album would be one not to be missed.     

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