In many ways, “pop” musicians rely on the imagination of their arrangers. In the case of Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones was integral to his evolution. But like Stevie Wonder, Manner Effect are their own producers and arrangers; Manner Effect relies solely on Manner Effect. Their jazz-trained, pop-infused, and unmistakably passionate music is a presentation of ballads that groove, bringing improvisation back to the art popular song.
New ideas still fresh in their blood from a brief Michigan tour, NY-based Manner Effect will appear at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, Thursday August 2, 2012. The band’s packed album release show for was this past Sunday night at Rockwood Music Hall. The group also entertained packed houses at The Triad in March, and Smalls Jazz Club in April.
A band of “five leaders,” Manner Effect is Sarah Elizabeth Charles, voice; Caleb Curtis, saxophones and flute; Logan Evan Thomas piano; PJ Roberts bass; Josh Davis drums. Abundance was recorded May 2011; the band has had a year to tour and grow since recording. “It still holds up,” says Curtis “but we’ve definitely evolved as a band since recording the album.” Immediately following the tracking, Manner Effect embarked on a 10-day tour out to Michigan; Davis and Curtis attended Michigan State University, and Roberts and Thomas attended Western Michigan University.
In addition to playing concert spaces and clubs, the band conducted workshops with elementary schoolers in Pontaic and the recent trip included working with high schoolers at Siminar Camp in Kalamazoo. Because Manner Effect has a different angle than a traditional “jazz” group, the older kids received the band as if they were rock stars.
What excited me most about Abundance? The omnipresent and impeccable chemistry between vocalist Sarah Charles and saxophonist Caleb Curtis. On the inspirational gospel “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly,” and the title track “Abundance,” Charles and Curtis find middle ground while enchanting the ear with dynamic unified timbre. The two remind you of when a saxophonist can influence a vocalist, just as much as vice versa. The two also let loose during the groups interpretation of Michael Jackson’s grandiose “Earth Song.” Jackson’s 1995 music video is a must-see; find the Manner Effect studio footage here. The dark, sexy Steely Dan groove on the first section is a sophisticated touch, modulating and concluding with an epic vamp that rivals the original version. Anther cover on Abundance is an interesting re-harmonization of Jobim’s “Corcovado.” With brief spurts of Middle Eastern modality and Elvin Jones-like swing, Manner Effect adds a distinct gravity to a typically light bossa nova standard.
Notable original tunes include “Flying,” music video below, and “Hope,” a charming tune with a rap verse provided be emcee W.E.S. Josh Davis’s hip-hop drunk-swing (swunk) on the kit harkens other modern players (Eric Harland, Chris Dave) and Curtis’s overdubs on tenor and alto fill out the songs texture, instead of getting in the way of its live, interactive groove.
The DVD that accompanies the album is informative and entertaining. It includes a 30-minute featurette, footage from the studio, and live performances from their U.S. tour, allowing you to get to know the band and see their humility first hand. This is just one of my many ways Manner Effect has prepared themselves for the modern musical marketing era; Abundance’s Kickstarter exceeded its $8,000 goal to earn approximately $9,228. Put your eyes and ears on the Abundance package on iTunes, Amazon, or order directly from the band’s site. Also find them on Facebook and Twitter.