The fusion of jazz and rock has resulted in all sorts of music across the last 45 years, but not much that you might call “autumnal”. Yet that is exactly what Manu Katché achieves on his fourth ECM album, the best since 2005’s Neighbourhood. That debut for the label proclaimed him as a composer of merit as well as being the drummer of choice for artists ranging from Peter Gabriel to Jan Garbarek.
The next two albums lacked the solo firepower of Neighbourhood, without which the music sometimes edged dangerously close to that wretched genre called “smooth jazz”, only with scintillating drumming.
This self-titled opus sets the ship on a fresh course. Saxophonist Tore Brunborg is the sole survivor from the last crew, and is joined by trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and pianist/organist Jim Watson, with no bass.
Katché’s compositions have a misty, elegiac quality; a gentleness that easily could have let the music drift once more into the treacherous shoals of smooth jazz. The saving graces are the gentle breezes of lyricism from both tunes and soloists, and the little gusts of exultant drumming.
Katché has an instinct for fine detail in the interrelationship between sound, texture, dynamics and rhythm that is unlike anyone in the history of the instrument. His is never a dominant voice, however; yet always one to save the music when blandness beckons.