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Manu Katche



by Ian Mann

February 13, 2006


One of the most melodic ECM releases since Pat Metheny's days on the label over 20 years ago.

One of the surprise delights of last years jazz releases was this debut recording as leader by French drummer Manu Katche.

Born in Paris of African roots Katche first came to prominence on Peter Gabriel’s “So” album back in 1986 and on the Amnesty International World Tour with Gabriel, Sting and Tracy Chapman. He has since recorded and/or toured with numerous other rock and pop acts including Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Dire Straits, Simple Minds, Bees Gees, Tears for Fears and Joan Armatrading. Other collaborations have involved Youssou N’Dour and Nigel Kennedy.

On the jazz front Katche is best known for his work with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek with whom he first played in 1989. Katche has subsequently appeared on five of Garbarek’s albums.

For “Neighbourhood” ECM supremo Manfred Eicher has helped Katche assemble an all star European band. Not surprisingly Garbarek is present in the line up alongside Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and Stanko’s young compatriots pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz.

The music consists of ten original tunes by Katche. The writing is wonderfully melodic and Katche’s drumming creates a relaxed groove in which everybody involved seems comfortable. There is none of the ‘Nordic iciness’

(for which he is sometimes criticised) in Garbarek’s tone and he contributes his best ‘straight ahead’ playing since his appearance on Miroslav Vitous’ “Universal Syncopations” a couple of years ago.

Stanko too can be an austere player but here his warm round tone fits perfectly with Katche’s tuneful compositions.

Wasilewski has been one of the finds on the European scene in recent years and is in sparkling form throughout.

Kurkiewicz and Katche sound as if they have been playing together for years and the bassist makes a strong melodic contribution to the albums opening track “November 99”. However, I’m loathe to single out individual tracks as the standard of writing and playing is so high throughout. The material is always focussed and melodic, and the soloing is never allowed to become self indulgent.

Credit should be given to producer Manfred Eicher whose warm production is fully in tune with the music. Eicher’s production is sometimes criticised for being frosty or stilted, but there can be no allegations of that here.

This is an album which should appeal to audiences outside the usual jazz demographic. It’s certainly one of the most melodic ECM releases since Pat Metheny’s days on the label over 20 years ago.

Katche has dedicated the record to the late, great French pianist Michel Petrucciani. I think the little man would have loved it - and I’d like to think you will too.

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