All of this comes together in Manson’s brilliant compositions; adventurous from the start because of the piano-less, sax-trumpet-trombone quintet format, Manson’s challenging ensemble themes have a deceptively open, organic feel yet walk the harmonic tightrope without ever dipping into Third Stream esoterica or dissonance. Structured passages and improvised segments are seamlessly integrated, allowing touchdown points for the flight of the soloist and unison passages brimming with free jazz brio.
This works so well because of the unique juju of this highly integrated quintet. On frenetic pieces like "Poodle Science" and Tephlon", drummer Anthony Cole and bass player Doug Mathews show a joyful telepathy. Rivers is stellar throughout, weaving his hypnotic post-bop lines together with a snake charmer’s charisma, but always ducking overt riffing and turning down a new alley. Yet he by no means upstages the others. Young trumpeter Jonathan Powell burnishes a muscular Ted Curson-like tone matched with Don Cherry’s thoughtfulness of where he can take these tunes. On "Crossdrift" he plays a crisp, brash solo full of harmonic confidence.
Again, in a perfect jazz world Manson’s "Whispers" would quickly surface as a ballad standard. The evocative, even eerie, three-horn harmonic theme floats over Cole’s minimal cymbal play and a loping, desert heat bass line by Mathews. Rivers stutters and stammers a beautiful deconstruction of the theme with an Arabic flavor. Trombonist Manson shows he’s mastered the rough and tumble balladry of Roswell Rudd with a vigorous solo. As Rivers takes out the theme and Powell and Manson follow in a round, there is a refreshing break of optimism in this music.
Manson’s fine constructions compare favorably to Dave Douglas’ recent work, but also further back to the inventive playfulness of Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus (especially in prevalent rhythmic role he offers Mathews).
It’s high praise but deserved.