Sunday, August 22, 2010

Manu Katche’s Good Grooves on Third Round

Americans would probably be surprised to hear a jazz musician is a judge for Nouvelle Star, the French equivalent of American Idol. Yet, few understand the mechanics of successful pop better than Manu Katché, who first came to international prominence in the bands of Sting and Peter Gabriel. Also a veteran of many continental jazz sessions, the French-African drummer is nothing if not flexible. His latest outing, Third Round, is a jazz affair with a decidedly funky edge, now available from ECM Records.

Though it starts on a deceptively delicate note, the set opening “Swing Piece” settles into a smoky late-night groove, showcasing Tore Brunborg’s warm tenor saxophone, subtly propelled by the leader’s crisp brush work. Part insistent bop, part backbeat-driven funk, the following “Keep on Trippin’” constantly changes hue and texture based on each successive solo, with some pretty tasty ones coming from pianist Jason Rebello and Brunborg.

Katché has a knack for penning fresh-sounding melodies like the spritely up-tempo “Being Ben,” which features a real clinic from the drummer on producing tonal colors from cymbals. Even when Katché dials down the dynamics on “Springtime Dancing” his new group constantly sounds energized by his grooves. Then on the odd but cool “Out Take Number Nine,” the shortest track of the session, Katché really lets loose his inner “Funky Drummer” while Rebello conversely dips deep into a Bill Evans bag. Yet, somehow it works quite effectively.

Though a steady diet of guest trumpeter Kami Lyle’s breathy vocals might be like ice cream for every meal, they come as a sweet palette cleanser on the achingly lyrical “Stay With You,” perfectly complimented by Brunborg’s rich, insinuating tenor. Lyle switches to her horn on the following “Flower Skin,” a moody hardbop piece also distinguished by the evocative work of another guest musician, Norwegian American guitarist Jacob Young. In an act of true musical generosity (and confidence), Katché sits out the elegantly minimalist “Urban Shadows” entirely, though frankly he is somewhat missed.

During the most memorable sequence in bassist Victor Wooten’s New Agey novel The Music Lesson, one particularly masterful drummer remains silent during his solo, simply nodding to the beat, because the groove he has already created remains so strong the audience can still feel it. Katché’s playing on Round often has that palpable rhythmic vibe. Highly melodic and downright fun, it is jazz anyone can appreciate.