November 14, 2016

Chris Daly owns a beachfront condo in Lemuria. 

Firsts tend to make for wonderful memories. From your first kiss (ah, Sweet Melissa) to your first time in the sack (uh, yeah, sorry about that, Bree), even if you go on to repeat the same activity innumerable times moving forward, one seldom forgets their first whatever. Realizing this obvious truth, NZ-born jazz percussion virtuoso Myele Manzanza had the foresight to record his first ever stop in the U.S. for his sophomore release, OnePointOne. Out on First Word Records, the intimate set was recorded at LA’s infamous Blue Whale and features live versions of MM’s own tracks and covers, featuring fresh takes on songs by Jill Scott, Theo Parrish and Bobby Hutcherson.

As with all great live sets, first comes the band. Expanding beyond his traditional trio sound that includes Mark de Clive-Lowe on keyboards/electornics and Ben Sheperd on bass to incorporate Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s Quartetto Fantastico String Quartet, OnePointOne is a lush, fully embodied experience. While some artists choose to let the silences speak as loudly as the music, every ounce of MM’s sound is packed and loaded. Opener “A Love Eclectic” could easily be mistaken for 1986, Parade-era Prince—a gorgeous mixture of swelling strings and horns so subtly funky that Eric Leeds undoubtedly would tip his black shawl.

“Absent Fade” comes closer to “traditional jazz,” whatever that means, but at the very least, we can agree it’s a densely filled romp that continually ebbs and flows, allowing each musician ample opportunity to swirl where the mood takes them. “7 Bar Thing” is more experimental in nature, showcasing the first vocals of guest Nia Andrews. “Circumstances” affords the bandleader the opportunity to flex his drumming muscles, and he runs with the opportunity. While some folks maintain extended drum solos are the audio equivalent of dentistry, MM’s non-conventional style, clearly steeped in African rhythm (his Pops is a Congolese master percussionist, after all), makes this a jam session worth hearing. The brief interlude afforded by Jeremy Sole between sets is as hep cat jazz as you could want before the band picks right up where it left off on the heartfelt “Love Is War For Miles.”

“Montara” starts to bring the audience into more mellow territory before hitting the by now obvious MM flip, turning on a dime to transform in and out of a full jazz funk freak out before pulling back into more subdued waters. “Everybody Isn’t a Long Walk” is the Jill Scott cover we didn’t know we wanted or needed, but MM’s reinterpretation of the track takes the song into darker territory than originally explored, and quite frankly, it’s one of the best songs here. Apparent closer “City of Atlantis” is as close to mainstream as the album comes, incorporating sung and rapped vocals, but, if you’ve been a good boy like Yours Truly, the album actually closes with the bonus track, “Ben MF Shepherd.” The title speaks for itself, as Sheperd and the band proceed to get so funky you can scrape that shit off your speakers when you’re done.

While Manzanza has been on the scene as a member of various bands for about a decade now, OnePointOne proves that this is a solo first to remember. Speaking of which, my apologies again about the duration of our first time, Bree. I swear to the Based God, I’ve gotten better since then.