Myele Manzanza Trio

A Love Requited - album release / 
11 July 2019 /
Arts Inc. Heretaunga /
By Ian Thomas

The audience arrive and are invited to pick up a chair and set themselves up wherever they choose. So we surround the musicians in an appropriately haphazard way. The room is beautiful. The lighting moody. Jazz stylings extend to the seating arrangements and the performance space. This is a festival-worthy show. One of several such shows Arts Inc Heretaunga is staging to pepper, and spice up the months between festivals. 

Manzanza’s international repute is founded on a large body of work; compositions and collaborations. A Love Requited is his latest album of original tracks. The trio – Manzanza drums, Jonathon Crayford piano, and Johnny Lawrence bass guitar (Iva Lamkum, Thomas Oliver, Louis Baker, Electric Wire Hustle and more) – is powerful: Individual virtuosity slotting together precisely, like a hand-crafted wooden puzzle. Physically, and musically, points of a triangle set right in the centre of the arts centre, each one observing the others as they seamlessly mix the sound. No mixing desk here.

The canvas of composition is all Manzanza’s. His star shines brightly. It’s retrospective of parts of his life, his loves, his growth. He introduces each track with the story of its inspiration, giving us an anchoring point for our mental musings as we soak up the music. The experience is at once relaxing and invigorating. There is a soul-bearing honesty to the performance despite its instrumental nature. The absence of lyrics puts the onus on the audience to run its own cerebral picture show as the musical cues point to varied emotions and energies. 

The drums are simultaneously back beat and lead instrument. Cymbals tapping, evoking rain falling on a tin roof. The fat sound of bass guitar brings a funky, soulful richness. The piano takes the lead. It’s silent movie soundtrack, wordless yet expressive. We’re eased into Family Dynamics with a morse code tapping of sticks, piano overlay swelled by that juicy bass, flamenco style plucking. As the town clock reliably strikes eight the music crescendos. The sound is as full and as multifaceted as every family’s dynamics. Each track is born of serious contemplation of serious subject matter. Mortality is the final piece before an interval. Metronomic stick on drum rim yields to light, vibrant piano, in turn gradually slowing to a deeper tempo and key.

Big Deal opens the second set. Up beat, funky, salsa-esque bass line. Then Madrid, ah Madrid, the story of an unsuccessful marriage proposal. Mournful piano on Spanish streets, Spanish  drums, the final climax akin to the unrequited baying at a Spanish moon. 

The show and the album are delightfully balanced. The music is referential yet always original. Manzanza’s varied inspirations shine through without holding the music to a contrived outcome. The recorded album versions are clothed in brass, lead guitar and keyboards. The trio have interpreted the album in a wonderful, semi-naked performance this evening. Within the audience there is nothing to be seen except sheer delight at the joyous work.

Standing ovation and album purchases conclude the evening. What a treat for midwinter. 

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