For his fourth ECM album, titled just “Manu Katché”, the great French-Ivorian drummer reshuffles the line-up of his band once more, and presents a new programme of compact, self-penned tunes. The revolving door policy is part of Katché’s songwriting concept: “If you write all your own music, you’re aware of your limitations. It helps to have a changing cast of musicians, because they naturally bring in things you wouldn’t have expected. It’s really been the idea since the first album [2004’s “Neighbourhood”] to keep on changing the band.” Choices of musicians have usually been inspired by meetings and encounters. “I’ll get to play with someone and then try to have his style, or at least the essence of his style, in mind when I write the music at the piano.”
Only Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg remains from the group heard on “Third Round”. “In the band sound, Tore is a ‘leader’, sonically,” Manu explains. “Even if I play melodically on my instrument, as a drummer I have other responsibilities in the ensemble. I can’t always be the leading voice. Tore’s approach to the melodies and the themes, in the studio and also live, is just right, and his sound has become the sound that I hear in my imagination when I write new music. He’s my main man.” On the present session Brunborg finds himself reunited with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær: they began their careers together, almost thirty years ago, as young musicians in Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen’s band Masqualero, and their affinity as players is undimmed.
With his 1997 ECM album “Khmer” Nils Petter Molvær recast the format for electric jazz. Katché has been listening to him on record for a long time, but trumpeter and drummer did not have the opportunity to play together until the Montreal Jazz Festival combined them for a free-spirited set with Paolo Fresu, “all improv and loops and sounds,” as Manu recalls. “I found we had something in common.” Manu subsequently invited Nils Petter to join the recording project, and praises his idiosyncratic feeling for sounds and textures which seemed, he says, both to “glue the album together” and to open the music up.
At the core of the new pieces, however, is Manu’s unmistakable drum sound, and the album opens with the sound of him alone on “Running After Years”. He speaks of the feeling of freedom he finds in working with London-based keyboardist Jim Watson, who on several tracks covers also some of the role of bass with the pedals of his Hammond B3. “This is the first of my own albums where I’ve worked without a bass player. Usually I’m working very closely with a bassist. But I wanted to make some quite radical changes in the band, and the sound of the Hammond is something I’ve always loved.” Katché first encountered Watson through the Arte TV show “One Shot Not”. “Then I invited him to join my band last year for a festival date and what he brought in was very strong.” There were further performances in concert and on TV with a spontaneously assembled group including Katché, Watson, Meshell Ndegeocello and Pino Palladino, which further convinced Manu of the organist/pianist’s strengths. He sees Watson as an outsider rather like himself. “We’re both coming from this other cultural corner, the pop world, and are influenced by that, yet also have jazz backgrounds and a certain jazz attitude.” (…) “Playing with him is very interesting for me. We have a kind of duet thing going on, organ and drums are the rhythm section this time and this was my starting point for thinking about the music. The bass sound from the organ pedal board is not as clearly defined as the sound of an electric or upright bass. The sound of the organ surrounds you and I’m playing with that sound and can react to it in different ways. I can groove, or just flow, or wait... It opens up many new dynamic possibilities for me as a drummer.”