Date: February 5, 2013
Venue: Drom (NY)
Review by Dawoud Kringle
Synthesizers invoked a walk through idyllic forests. Verdant melodies floated above glacial harmonies. Then, a majestic piano ushered in shades of the mellower side of a Return to Forever-esque song. Thus began Manu Koch‘s set at Drom.
The ensemble consisted of Manu Koch (Switzerland/keys), NEW YORK GYPSY ALL STARS‘s Panagitois Andreou (Greece/bass), Mauricio Zottarelli (Brazil/drums), and Sebastian Nickoll (Germany/congas) performing songs from Manu Koch’s debut album Triple Life, which will be reviewed very soon, and new songs. The music was imaginatively composed and smoothly executed. The abrupt shifts and changes were executed with ease.
The next two pieces started with lush piano arpeggios that solidified into a phrase of deep blues. The band answered him, and once they took up the mantle, the piano stood atop the structure and spoke its poems. After some time, the synth offered its thoughts.
After the piece closed, the group then violently slammed into the audience with a 7/8 groove, invoking the ghost of Mahavishnu. Once the shock was absorbed, the group took the listener through breaks and changes in vibe that added contrast to the groove. Then the congas took the lead, dominating the indomitable power of the ostinato groove. Then, after a breath of fresh air, the bass stood up, and joked with the audience, and led the band back into the 7/8 from which it never really left.
The bass stepped on one if its stomp boxes, turning its tone from a smooth bass guitar tone to a jagged saw tooth distortion. The piano slide in under the radar, and the band started a new groove that locked you in before you knew it had begun.
The audience was then transported to Brazil. Drums and percussion set up the bass, and the synth eased its way into the mélange. The room got noticeably warmer. The bass took a solo, singing along with his note: a bebop samba that climaxed in an almost Zappa like flurry of jagged phrases. Then, after some keyboard excursions, the keys and bass held down a pattern over which the drums and percussion flexed their muscles.
The last song, “Puna”, began with the bass again scattered singing over his melodies, ornamenting it with Jaco-esque harmonics, flamenco tapping, and lush harmonies. A breath pause and the band broke in within infectious groove, once again bringing the best elements of the old jazz-rock fusion into the 21st century.
Throughout, Andreou was having a lot of fun with the music. He approached the bass’s role in this music with a manly yet child-like humor. Koch deftly created a sonic palette of musical and sound textures. Zottarelli’s muscular drums and Nickoll’s congas worked well together, propelling the music forward and underscoring the moods well. The drums and bass locked in well, creating dense grooves. Koch, with his back to the audience (owing to Drom’s small stage) was clearly in command of the complex and demanding music; yet the respect of his fellow musicians and that which the music commanded of the audience was never without mutual fun and camaraderie. It was serious, but fun.
Manu Koch and his ensemble proved themselves to be equal to the finest jazz musicians in the world.