Album: Manteca, Monday Night at the Mensa Disco
“We are driven by an intense desire to see the thrill in our audience’s eyes. With nine players on stage when we play an ensemble figure together there is a power and this kind of joyous impact surrounded by the silence between the notes that exhilarates us and in turn the audience.”
~Matt Zimbel, Manteca
Manteca is a nine-piece Toronto-based jazz ensemble That’s as grounded in all of late jazz as it is open to innovation, eclecticism, and exploration. The album title is priceless in itself, but it also sums up the bearing of this great album; It’s smart, uninhibited, and so danceable even the nerds will climb down off the walls.
Though the band has been a dominant fixture in Canadian jazz, and on the world scene, for more than two decades, this all sounds refreshingly new. These days I’ve been noting the frequency of composers being inspired by sixties film scores, and Monday Night at the Mensa Disco is a brilliant example of how such inspiration can generate lush new sounds.
?Mind Monday? is the bee’s knees. It’s guaranteed to lift you from the worst sloughs of despond, packed with thrilling solos and driving percussions, and reminiscent of those movie scenes wherein the hero has just reached an epiphany and is now embarking on a new journey into a world whose doors are wide open. (It’s clear the band-members are into it; listen for the wolf whistles, war whoops, and enthusiastic handclapps.)
?Levitate? starts off sounding like those dance scenes in Bye Bye Birdie where the kids are swinging their arms and snapping their fingers while crouching across the stage. The bass clarinet and polyrhythmic drums are a great set up for a divinely original melody played on an alto flute. There’s a crescendo to evoke pools of triumph, film noir, and dissonance. At the end, the muted trumpet sings of repressed longings and a devilish inventiveness.
?Radio Noir? (how’s that for another great title?) is a rich tune ripe with glamorous associations from the late fifties and early sixties, the era when most radio music was instrumental.
To its credit, this album was fan-funded according to newly developing funding models (of which Gregor’s Bed heartily approves). Via Indiegogo, fans actually helped Manteca exceed its financial goal. And a bit of help from the Ontario Arts Council Popular Music Program didn’t hurt. Thank goodness that gifted groups like this don’t have to depend on record companies and bottom lines anymore.
You’ll find elements of Latin, funk, experimental, folk, and fusion, all with a salient absence of caution and self-consciousness. How did they manage it? Perhaps the fact that the album was recorded in three days lends the music a brash exuberance?even though the writing took three years. Every track is an original composition by Doug Wilde and Matt Zimbel, but once they had the scores down they ran with them. Apparently, writing slow and recording fast is a good formula.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.