Jim Manley: Brass Poison Too (2012)

Jim Manley: Brass Poison Too

Trumpet players who dwell in the altissimo range of the instrument face multiple dilemmas: they must maneuver the purely physical demands of playing in that extreme register (challenging), perform impeccably (difficult) and display musical grace and ease in doing so (incredibly difficult). Complicating matters, there are always the ghosts of Maynard Ferguson, Bill Chase and others lurking to offer the opportunity for fair or unfair comparisons.

With Brass Poison Too, Jim Manley again demonstrates that he is an incredible talent—a marvelously gifted player and shrewd producer. Unlike some other screamers, Manley realizes that the timbre of the instrument in the high register will easily bore if overplayed. And, as on his prior releases—Brass Poison (Victoria, 2010) and Eight (Victoria, 2008)—Manley the producer wisely incorporates eclectic musical selections, and sources interesting arrangements which showcase his awesome talents and those of his fine-playing cohorts.

The general tone of this session is smooth rock-jazz rather than straight-ahead jazz ("In Style and Rhythm"). There's no shortage of Manley's fireworks, however. He screams with the best and knows his own limitations and those of the horn's upper register. He's not a "valve wiggler"—a player who does not have the creative improv skills, but, who relies on the flurries and flips of their fingers. His solos throughout are well-developed and maturely restrained.

Manley's choice of selections is incredibly savvy and the arrangements are excellent ("Night in Tunisia," presented with a unique triple-time treatment). Manley tips his historical hat to Maynard Ferguson by yanking out Ferguson's "L-Dopa," and to King Crimson with "In the Court of the Crimson King." There's a pervasive sense that Manley channels the innovative trumpeter Don Ellis ("Beirut"—a highlight). While Ellis took time signatures, four-valved trumpets and electronic effects to the forefront, Manley uses subtler textures—different instrumentation mixes and grooves—to achieve fascinating results. Jazz standards such as Eddie Harris's "Listen Here," Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and Tom Scott's "King Cobra" are given fresh facelifts. An odd, but, effective stop is Manley's cover of The Beatles' "Michelle."

Brass Poison Too is an honest, entertaining musical effort that, while not disingenuously attempting a musical breakthrough, validates Jim Manley's reputation as a outstanding musician and a producer extraordinaire. It's a fun, tasty potion.

Track Listing: In Style and Rhythm; Night in Tunisia; L-Dopa; Michelle; Coloring Outside the Lines; Beirut; Semi-Sweet; Court of the Crimson King; King Cobra; Gotta Be One Like This; Listen Here; Blue Rondo a la Turk; Libertango.

Personnel: Jim Manley: trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone; Frank Goessler: trumpet; Dan Smith: trumpet; Chris Miller: trumpet; Greg Grooms: trumpet; Jim Owens: trombone; Larry Johnson: tenor saxophone; Joe Bayer: tenor saxophone; Jason Swagler: alto saxophone, flute; Aaron Lehde: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone; Brett Voelker: drums; Marc Torlina: bass; Jim Owens: piano, organ; Tony Esterly: guitars; Alex Trampe: percussion; Carol Beth True: keyboard; Greg Trampe: strings.

 

Jim Manley: Brass Poison (2010)

Jim Manley: Brass Poison

Mythology and its partners—history and literature—are replete with accounts of poisonings of all kinds; romantic, political, and those unfortunately accidental. Most of these tales culminate with unhappy, tragic endings. Someone usually "gets it" in the end.

With Brass Poison, star trumpeter Jim Manley shrewdly plays title tongue-in-cheek, and delivers a supremely enjoyable and seductively cooking rocktail. Following up on his fine Eight (Victoria, 2008), Manley and his St. Louis- based crew grab hold of a handful of selections from days gone by and polish them anew with some terrific, high-energy playing. There's not only top talent displayed here, but also pure musical fun. Nothing is taken too seriously, except musicianship, of course, making Brass Poison work terrifically.

As mentioned in the liner notes, some of the tunes here originally did not lend themselves to jazz or commercial trumpeting. Some were Top 40 Pop Chart hits from the '60s, '70s, and later. Reworking them and giving each a fresh approach, Manley and team sweetly "poison." Unlike sterile elevator music pop covers or smooth jazz throwbacks, Brass Poison takes these pop standards and overlays superb arrangements, orchestrations and first class playing. Incorporating a few jazz selections ("Well You Needn't," "Blues for Miles") to the wizard's brew adds to the display of Manley and his men's versatility.

As a player who has made his bones dwelling in the trumpet's altissimo register, Manley displays wonderful musicianship across the instruments' range on both trumpet and flugelhorn. In addition to his Maynard Ferguson-like scream chops, Manley's flugelhorn playing is very expressive ("Rocket Man") and his ensemble leadership is excellent, as is the high energy feeling to the ensemble. "Soul Makossa" and "It's Your Thing" not only kick, but move butt. When Manley screams and spews fire, he pulls the ensemble enthusiastically along and they willingly respond with vigor.

There's somewhat of a live lounge act or stage performance feeling here, but that seems to make it all work even more effectively. It's a fun session with no superficiality or pretense: what you hear is what you get. And, there's a sense of surprise as the oldies are served up. To Manley's and the producers' credit, there's no tendency to take what are simple selections and convert them into faux masterpieces. What results is a fresh look at some old friends.

Trombonist Jim Owens sparkles on his solos and saxophonists Larry Johnson (whose CD Circles (Victoria—2010) was also a fine effort), Jason Swagler, Mike Fernandez, and Joe Bayer stretch out nicely and the terrific rhythm section prods, funks it up and poison-pricks along, with great flair. To paraphrase another Top 40 hit, Brass Poison "Kills Softly with His Song." It's a very fun—and highly musical—way to go. Salud! Drink up.

Track Listing: Go Back Home; Rocket Man; Soul Makossa; Seven Days; It's Your Thing; Santa Cruzin'; Well You Needn't; Spooky; Brass Poison; Rocket; Blues for Miles; I Feel the Earth Move; Grazin' in the Grass; Last Night.

Personnel: Jim Manley: trumpet; Frank Goessler: trumpet; Dan Smith: trumpet; Jason Swagler: alto saxophone; Joe Bayer: alto saxophone (8); Mike Fernandez: soprano saxophone (6); Larry Johnson: tenor saxophone; Aaron Lehde: baritone saxophone; Jim Owens: trombone; Jim Owens: piano; Jim Owens Organ; Greg Trampe: organ;; Arthur Toney: keyboard (7.13); Tony Esterly: steel guitar; Tony Esterly: pedal guitar; Greg Trampe: guitar; Greg Trampe: strings; Ernie Isley: rhythm guitar (5); Ernie Isley: lead guitar (5); Marc Torlina: bass; Brett, "The Boss," Voelker: drums; Scott "White Bread" Colier: percussion.

Jim Manley: Eight (2008)

Jim Manley: Eight

St. Louis has generously given the music world some of its all-time great jazz musicians (OK, and great ballplayers too!)—from Miles Davis, and Clark "Mumbles" Terry to two Olivers (Nelson and Lake), and many others. It could be said that the city gave these stars lovingly. With Eight, the jazz world gets yet another gift from St. Louis (in addition to baseball's Stan), who can also be respectfully and accurately designated as "the man." And, here Jim Manley demonstrates why he is called so.

High-note trumpeting is rarified air. Many are called to scream and fly, but few are indeed chosen. They are the ones having the chops and musicianship to make the altissimo bravissimo. Manley marvelously proves he can indeed do it "up there" and "out there"—as a musician first and foremost and monster lead and scream trumpeter. This album is a gem of trumpet scream skills, great jazz improvisations, tight ensemble playing, and terrific musicianship.

In Eight—his eighth CD performed by an octet that sounds bigger and ballsier than that—Manley demonstrates (admirably so) that he is first and foremost a great trumpeter, leader and musician. He stands colossus-like on the platform set up by Maynard Ferguson, Bud Brisbois, Cat Anderson, Bill Chase, and other screamers. And, he's got a great sense of the quirk in his tune selection—it all works superbly.

From the "Sister Sadie" inspired start of "Preach and Teach," Manley and his Eight crew provide a baker's dozen of in-your-face swing and scream. And this thirteen is all taste. There's plenty of good humor here, as well, with "Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle" an example of great fun and playing all around. Some of those old '60s cartoon shows featured soundtracks and themes played by Hollywood's best studio musicians, with Larry Johnson's tenor and Jason Swagler's alto making the "I've Got Rhythm" burner fly.

Manley knows his big band roots well. His "I'll Be Seeing You" has the trumpeter covering the standard in a manner that Doc Severinsen would, with a tasty solo that displays a non-scream dimension and a "Seeing the Light" quote. The Count Basie warhorse, "One O'Clock Jump," gets a fresh face here: Manley's Harmon takes the group out, pianist John Pyatt sends up a nice solo, while the ensemble builds momentum behind another Larry Johnson solo, with trombonist Jim Owens shining on a nice chorus. There's a very Woody Herman-esque effect here.

"Ain't Necessarily So" and "Just Friends" shine. Manley's melodic take on these tunes is superb.

Manley and the producers deserve kudos for the eclectic array of selections on the session. Who has the creative smarts to include "Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead," and the "Theme from Perry Mason"? Each is a stellar arrangement—no novelties here, just great, smart writing and marvelous playing. The juxtaposition of these selections with the standards is production genius.

Eight is a terrific CD. Not only will trumpeters thrill to Manley's Maynard-esque chops, but all who enjoy great jazz will, too.

Track Listing: Preach and Teach; Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle; I'll Be Seeing You; Come Rain or Come Shine; One O'Clock Jump; It Ain't Necessarily So; Just Friends; Theme from Perry Mason; Ding Dong the Witch is Dead; My Romance; Stella By Starlight; Alice In Wonderland; Thirsty Night Blues.

Personnel: Jim Manley: trumpet; Frank Goessler: trumpet; Dan Smith: trumpet; Rob Nugent: alto saxophone; Jason Swagler: alto saxophone; Larry Johnson: tenor saxophone; Larry smith: tenor saxophone; Jim Owens: trombone; John Pyatt: piano; Greg Trampe: organ, strings; Travis Mattison: guitar; Zeb Briskovich: upright bass; Joe Weber: drums.

Jim Manley: Splendor in the Brass 2 (2007)

By
Jim Manley: Splendor in the Brass 2

It's not often that a sequel matches the prototype on which it was based, and even less likely that a followup may actually surpass that forerunner. But here we have one of those rare cases, wherein trumpeter Jim Manley's Splendor in the Brass 2 easily outdistances its namesake and role model (which was pretty good, by the way) as it gives the listener almost a full hour of invigorating big band jazz—and more.

There are several reasons for the improvement. First, Splendor 2 is better recorded than its precursor, which certainly enhances one's pleasure. Second, Manley has ensured greater variety by singling out various sections of the band—trumpets ("Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me, "Lullaby of Birdland ), trombones ("When Sunny Gets Blue, "Triste ), saxophones ("Alone Together, "Easy Living )—and showcasing his horn in front of them. Third, Manley has enlisted the services of the renowned guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who sweetens the pot with tantalizing solos on five numbers. Pizzarelli and Manley comprise a persuasive duet on a reprise of "Sunny, as do the trumpeter and pianist Jim Owens on "For Maynard, Manley's warm-hearted homage to his mentor, the late monarch of the high C's, Maynard Ferguson.

The full band is heard on "What Is This Thing Called Love, "Soft Winds, "Mas Que Nada and "Lover Come Back to Me, and there are admirable solos on those selections and elsewhere by Owens (on trombone) and fellow trombonist Brett Stamps; saxophonists Aaron Lehde, Larry Smith and Larry Johnson; pianists John Pyatt and Carolbeth True, guitarist Bob Borgstede and bassist Zeb Briscovich. For his part, Manley has no trouble nailing the high notes when necessary, but sees fit to cruise on a more even keel most of the time. The charts are first-rate, especially the four by Owens ("Mas Que Nada, "Sunny, "Easy Living, "Triste ). Manley arranged "Do Nothin', Brett Spainhour "What Is This Thing, Steve Hoover "Soft Winds, Jeff Fairbanks "Alone Together, co-lead trumpeter Frank Goessler "Lover Come Back.

When all the chips have been cashed, the payoff is that Splendor 2 is positively splendid, a more than worthy scion to its progenitor. If nothing else, it should help neutralize the sort of halfhearted and generally slipshod enterprises that have been giving sequels a bad name.

Track Listing: What Is This Thing Called Love?; Soft Winds; Mas Que Nada; When Sunny Gets Blue; Alone Together; Do Nothin� Till You Hear from Me; Lover Come Back to Me; Easy Living; Triste; For Maynard; Lullaby of Birdland; When Sunny Gets Blue (reprise) (59:31).

Personnel: Jim Manley: leader; trumpet, flugelhorn; Frank Goessler, Dan Smith, Bob Ceccarini, Greg Grooms, Randy Holmes, Keith Moyer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Findley, Tim Stamps: alto sax; Larry Johnson: tenor sax; Larry Smith: tenor sax, flute; Aaron Lehde: baritone sax; Brett Stamps, Jim Owens: trombone, piano; Kurt Silver, Wayne Coniglio: trombone; Steve Wyatt: bass trombone; John Pyatt, Carolbeth True: piano; Bob Borgstede: guitar; Zeb Briskovich, Jeremy Pfeffer: bass; Joe Weber: drums; Scott Collier, Jack Tartar: percussion. Special guest artist: Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar (2,6,7,9,11,12).

Jim Manley: Splendor in the Brass (2002)

When Jim Manley was in high school his band director and fellow trumpeter, Ed Levinsky, introduced him via records to many of the Jazz world's leading players including one who made an indelible impression that hasn't yet been erased. Manley was blown away by high""note maestro Maynard Ferguson and decided that was the road he wanted to travel. Now, some thirty years later, Manley has assembled a semi""big band (five trumpets, two trombones and rhythm but only two saxophones) to convey a posthumous thank you to Levinsky for prompting his interest in Jazz in general and trumpeters in particular.