19 November 2021
Album Rating 4.5/5
Solo Performances 5/5
Diversity in Songs 4/5
Favourite Songs 'The People's Shadow', 'When We Could Dance Together', 'African Folk Song'
Sequels are a difficult thing to master especially when following in the footsteps of Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 1 – London, an album that captured the blistering energy of London jazz with names like Ashley Henry and Mark de Clive-Lowe on the bill.
Myele Manzanza, however, delivers the sequel masterfully. The second instalment of the Crisis & Opportunity series, Vol. 2 – Peaks, is a glorious follow-up record.
Peaks is packed with percussive jams and grooves of pure jazz, not without the occasional trickling of highlife, electronica and funk. Big speakers are a must when this record is spinning.
Originally from New Zealand, Myele Manzanza moved to London in 2019 during one of London jazz’s many zeniths. From there came the inspiration and creation of the first instalment of the Crisis & Opportunity series, which invited praise from the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs, Jamie Cullum, The Guardian and Jazz FM.
Peaks carries on where London left off: thrilling jazz that glistens in and out of new and exciting grooves.
The second record sees Myele Manzanza join forces with Andre Marmot, Jay Phelps and Lewis Moody alongside New Zealand’s own Aron Ottignon, Matt Dal Din and Ashton Sellars.
It opens with ‘Peaks & Ferns’, which is possibly an ode to Manzanza’s own land-of-the-long-white-cloud of New Zealand/Aotearoa. It’s a track with bags of energy and a rhythm section anchored by the stabbing chords of the keys and repetitive bass remarks, while the horns and guitar flicker along.
‘Sit in Your Discomfort’ moves the rhythm to a more fragmentary structure, in a reference to the song title, until the drums come in full force and hurry the groove along in a head-nodding frenzy. The piano solo is a bolt of musical genius.
Leaving the frenzy comes ‘The People’s Changes’, which slows down the pace to a neo-soul strut. It’s a tune that I could imagine Nai Palm singing over, leaving no surprise as to why Myele Manzanza has shared stages with the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote.
Peaks feels like its more New Zealand-inspired than the previous record and its art of creation comes from its spontaneity rather than over-focus on composition.
"This process was also something that I used to do all the time back in my home city of Wellington, New Zealand in clubs like Havana, The Matterhorn or The Rogue and Vagabond in a style affectionately known as the ‘Welli Jam,'" says Manzanza.
"Just get a groove going with a few basic chords and let the music go wherever it goes. As I had been bashing my head into a brick wall trying to ‘compose’ music, I realised that I could just say, 'fuck it. I trust these musicians'. If I give them the space, then they’ll be able to fill it with good ideas".
That feeling of trust and freedom shines throughout the music along with complimentary electronic colours such as in ‘The People’s Shadow’, one of my personal favourites. Bass and synths throb under delicious guitar licks.
My other favourite tracks appear slap-bang in the middle of the album, in the shape of ‘When We Could Dance Together’ and ‘African Folk Song’.
The former begins with fast, irresistible percussion and is joined by fragmented guitar chords. The pace quickens but the rhythm section holds it together as tight as any great jazz group. It’s a frantic tune and aptly titled, it feels like a jazz-dance classic.
‘African Folk Song’ shifts the tone completely with euphoric horns taking the forefront in a wonderfully uplifting track. It sounds like a hybrid of South African jazz and West African highlife. Myele Manzanza’s drumming really shines in this one, if it didn’t already in every other track (which it did).
‘Back in the Days’ works around a persistent melody in a slightly unconventional rhythm, acting as an anchor throughout the tune.
‘A Night in Berlin’ brings back the soul strut with keys taking a forward role, and a wah-wah bass laying down a funky foundation.
Despite the album’s scope, it did not take too long for it to materialise in the studio.
"Funnily enough, over half of the finished album was recorded from excerpts of a single jam session that was a little over an hour-long," says Myele Manzanza.
"This was largely due to time pressure and deadline before the studio had to wrap up, and no doubt we were exhausted after the amount of focus and energy taken to get through my pre-composed material, but it’s funny how we can draw out some peak performances when under pressure."
Inspiration can often come about from a close deadline, which might explain some of the frantic but controlled energy that runs through the album.
Towards the end of the record comes ‘Two Chords & The Truth’ with a simple yet satisfying groove, before ‘Qunnies for the Boys’, the pre-released single for Peaks. It's no wonder this track was released as the single with its authentic London groove and gorgeous keys motif.
The album concludes with ‘Ancestral Mathematics', with its rock-jazz feel and haunting piano before the title track to round it off, ‘Crisis & Opportunity’, complete with pure jazz and electric flourishes.
Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 2 – Peaks compliments its precursor album and goes beyond. It combines the ‘Welli Jam’ feel of Manzanza’s New Zealand with the euphoria of London jazz while polishing off the record with electronic phases.
The immensely talented musicianship in Peaks leaves the listener with a near-perfect modern jazz record.
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