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Spotlights [Issue # 19 ]
Manu Katche: Welcome to the Neighbourhood

By Jason Sklar

At the crossroads of classical, jazz, and pop music stands Parisian drummer Manu Katché. Popularly known for his drum work for Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Joni Mitchell, Katché now sits at the set in a jazz setting.

His Valentine’s Day release of Neighbourhood brings together three-fourths of Poland’s Tomasz Stanko quartet and adds Katché’s longtime playing companion, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek.

“When you go for a session, you have to give yourself to the music and let your brain and heart do the rest,” he says. “I am trying to play as if I am discovering the music for the first time even though I composed it.” As both leader and composer, Katché did not write out indications for the percussive role. Instead, he supplied beats and rhythmic interjections upon hearing interpretations from his counterparts. In so doing, Katché said he was a bit afraid he would end up falling back on gimmicks and licks - a fear that he wouldn’t be part of it. But clearly, this group’s trenchant “casting” process has paired instrumentalists that produce an organic sound. “When I saw their faces smiling and bodies moving behind the instruments, I was very excited,” eases Katché. “I would say it sounds like a band.”

When Katché met pianist Marcin Wasilewski, he brought in charts and demos. Wasilewski diligently reorganized the voicings of all the chords with respect for Katché’s initial concepts to ultimately create a more intense sound. So too, Stanko and Garbarek came together, playing melodies in tandem through mellow and modal blends of trumpet and tenor saxophone.

Neighbourhood sounds distinctly European. Katché finds this to be the result of Europe’s musicians making references to classical artists such as Prokofiev, Ravel, and Debussy, whereas American jazz artists tend not to refer to as distant a past. These artists’ shared cultural heritage allowed them to take centuries-old references and apply them to tighten their union. They all learned Beethoven and Mozart in school and had to listen to symphonic orchestras. In turn, Katché says his bandmates are like his neighbors in a common harmonic community - one that hinges not on bebop or hard bop, but centers on respecting the sound of each instrument. “In Europe, the way of playing what we call jazz is a mixture of freedom with one’s instrument and playing music,” he says.

While Neighbourhood is supported by classical music, Katché confirms it has contemporary ties. Its modern references include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as subtly articulated on “Miles Away,” which takes the 6/8 time signature of “All Blues” and alludes to it with new chords and tones. Neighbourhood also carries the sensual sound of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. Coming from a classical percussion background, Katché plays softly without losing the cunning busyness that punctuates even the gentlest phrases.

With freedom comes intensity. “This [music] is very much written away from jazz so it is more difficult to get into the structure,” explains Katché. “It is not AABA where you go off to solo and return back to the tune. It is very written. The first two to three hours it was hard for us to get into the length of the pieces.” While the longer structures took some getting used to, the thoughtful players adapted. They present improvisations that run effortlessly over forms that were composed like pop songs with intros, verses, choruses, and bridges in varying lengths and recapitulations.

Katché demonstrates his genre agnosticism further in his appearance on Nouvelle Star, the French version of American Idol. Donning the nickname “The Professor,” Katché critiques artists and aspiring talents from a jazz player’s perspective. “Finally, people are discovering what it means to be a musician,” he remarks. He explains when to use a metronome and when to use the stomach to breathe. Viewers say he is cruel, but fair.

Katché says that preparing to play is like training for a marathon. You run every day for three years. As time passes, you want it to be over already so you can give your all and show what you are able to do. He finds this same stamina is required to display his best musical dexterity.

During “Shaking the Tree” on Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live, Gabriel proclaims “Manu Katché! Shaking two trees!” Katché continues to shake not one, but two trees. He’s knocking it down with respect for the sounds he produces, looks to compose more, and hopes to take new chances.


Welcome to the Neighbourhood Manu Katche Neighbourhood

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