Manu Katché: Neighbourhood

On his ECM leader debut, Emmanuel 'Manu' Katché opts for acoustic elegance in place of neo-fusion fire. Though the celebrated French-African drummer composed all of Neighbourhood's ten compositions, he largely cedes the spotlight to an esteemed front-line of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and pianist Marcin Wasilewski. But don't be deceived: Katché remains a quietly authoritative presence throughout, with his endlessly inventive syncopations and cymbal punctuations offering an inspiring springboard for his band mates.

Even though producer Manfred Eicher assembled the five players for the date, they sound as if they've been playing together for ages. In some respects that's true: Katché has contributed to many Garbarek albums (a key reason why discs like Twelve Moons are so strong) and Garbarek and Stanko have performed together many times (the two played in Edward Vesala's Helsinki ensembles and appeared on Gary Peacock's 1981 Voice From The Past – Paradigm recording).

The opening compositions showcase the three soloists: Wasilewski's elegant pianisms enrich the acoustic funk pulse of “November 99,” Garbarek's blustery runs carve bold, spiraling paths through the modal undergrowth of “Number One,” and “Lullaby” grants Stanko's smeary tone a chance to shine. Elsewhere, the two horns lock into place on the languorous “Good Influence,” Garbarek both feathery and piercing, while the breezy swing of “No Rush” offers a perfect vehicle for Stanko's ruminations. Whether the tune's a lyrical ballad (“February Sun,” “Rose”) or R'n'B funk (“Take Off and Land”), Katché's support is rock-solid and assured, with the drummer ever-so-subtly subtly modulating his free-floating accompaniment with a little jab here or dynamic accent there.

Though he drops some bombs on the buoyant blues “Miles Away” and demonstrates his elastic chops on “Lovely Walk,” Katché seldom indulges in the kind of exuberant rhythm-making heard on 'pop' recordings by Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Robbie Robertson—something that may little disappoint ECM fans. If his playing on Neighbourhood is a little less fiery, it complements the quintet's collective nuance all the better.

April 2006