Review Summary: A beautiful merging of jazz's past, present, and possible future.Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 1 - London
may initially appear to be a back-to-basics bop record from the opening tune “Big Deal 2 (Bigger Deals)”. Myele Manzanza’s drumming blends flawlessly with Benjamin Muralt’s bass to form a wonderful rhythm pocket that would be worthy of any classic 1950s modal jazz album. Add to that some incredibly tight horn work and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is simply a throwback to that era. But that’s not entirely the case, which becomes more apparent as the record continues. While Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 1 - London
is deeply indebted to the classics, a few subtle deviations start to materialize when you take a closer listen; the first of which is the presence of icy synths to enhance the atmosphere. “Portobello Superhero” is perhaps the best example of this; the playing is as tight and groovy as ever, but a layer of symphonic keyboard work forms overhead to give off what sounds like a cityscape vibe.
Stuff like that is what makes the record as enjoyable and interesting as it is. It’s worth noting that Manzanza didn’t actually come from England, despite recording Crisis & Opportunity
in London and being part of its jazz scene for some time now. He’s originally from New Zealand, and that’s where he really honed his craft and became a sideman for some of the country’s most well-respected musicians. Most importantly, the countries he records in heavily affect the style and mood of whatever music he makes, which is compounded by the integration of world music into his work. But let’s look at that title: Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 1 - London
. The reason for the focus on London is that this record is the first in a five-part series Manzanza is set to release, all of which have been composed during the COVID lockdown. So yeah, he’s been an incredibly productive fellow recently. But if this album is anything to go by, I can’t help but be excited for the other installments in the series.
Zooming back in on the music itself, it should go without saying - and was briefly touched upon prior to this - that the music is impeccably performed. The interplay between the rhythm instruments and the horns is great, especially in instances of counterpoint or harmony parts. It would take a lot of discipline and focus to pull off a lot of this stuff, especially on something like “London”. The tune is minimalist in its design, dedicating its second half to the relationship between a complex rhythmic base and the swirling keyboards that loom over it. Manzanza’s drum work is very methodical here, while the tension of Ashley Henry’s piano playing matches the off-kilter vibe of the track perfectly. Eventually it all devolves into a weird mess of backmasked effects, ending the tune just as mysteriously as it had started. But this does lead me to another thing that makes Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 1 - London
so interesting: tension and release.
As if to match the “crisis” portion of the album title, there’s a very uncertain atmosphere around the music. As such, Manzanza has quite a knack for creating tense buildups that play to the strengths of each instrument and enhance the mood of the tracks. The title track “Crisis & Opportunity” in particular thrives off this approach. The first three minutes consist of a gorgeous piano solo by Henry, but everything changes once the drums kick on; there’s a constant struggle between the smooth horns and the stuttering drum patterns, causing a strange disconnect that only grows as the song continues. It’s as if we’re listening to the musical equivalent of worldbuilding in a great TV show, and it’s endlessly compelling. “Brixton Blues” also shares an intriguing sense of uncertainty, but in a different way. Here, it comes in the form of constantly shifting chord progressions from the piano and bass, as well as the melancholic melodies provided by the trumpet and saxophone. The subtle synths are just icing on the cake, as they give off a feeling of distance and longing to match the tune’s sad vibe. Manzanza definitely seems to put more importance in what’t not
being played in these tunes than what is, and the spacious production and arrangements are a great means of leaving the record’s themes and emotions up for interpretation.
Crisis & Opportunity Vol. 1 - London
serves as a wonderful stylistic bridge between the old heroes of jazz and the modern luminaries who carry the torch today. Obviously jazz isn’t the cultural and commercial powerhouse it was decades ago, but as long as we keep getting forward-thinking virtuosos like Myele Manzanza, the genre won’t entirely lose its relevance either. For those looking for some classic modal-era jazz tunes with a fresh synth-oriented spin, this should prove to be a fantastic listen.