Manatee is an impressive act. They are a squadron of flammable imaginative power, and they kindle a capricious blaze. Calling them a jazz ensemble simply will not suffice. Harnessing the intention and talent of various southwestern Ontario stalwarts, they seek to light up the scene with their performative and interactive style.
More than a musical project, Manatee is a social experiment. If you have happened upon any of their live shows or Southern Souls footage, you will quickly see that an audience is integral to any song they create. Surrendering to the inventive moments that emerge out of interactions with people, their songs are changeable, and hard to define. In one moment the audience provides the hand signal for a crescendo, in the next, the heart-wrenching emotion of an interpretive dancer corrals a trumpet into a passionate solo, and in yet another moment, a wildly-dressed fanatic calls for snare shots that build into beautifully timed cacophony. This necessitates the communicative quality of true improvisers, and draws from all minds the passion that exists in a room, not limited to the stage.
The new release exhibits visually stimulating footage from the studio (courtesy of Southern Souls) for every track. By purchasing the album, one receives a download code for each of these live films, where you will witness the various conductors (fans) that were openly invited to participate in creating the music. And the music alone is worth your time. Each song has its own funk/jazz hook, wildly unpredictable, but still undeniably catchy. You get the feeling that the musicians themselves don’t know when the next chorus line will strike. On “King of the Castle,” the hook is bracketed by builds, call and response dialogue, and even a stirring, techno-funk guitar solo from one of the founders, Daniel Kruger. Among others, “Fast Crawl” begins with what seems like a storyline expressed by punchy trumpet, a hovering flute, and beautifully tight staccato drum kit. But what really grabs the audience are what can only be described as “big” horns. As you listen to the album, just wait until you reach the horn line on the final track, “Highlife, Var. 1.”
A warning, take anything you hear of Manatee’s music with a few grains of salt, as spontaneity and interaction are constantly reshaping the flavour and delivery of their sound. What I can promise you is that it will always be a cohesive torrent of eloquent soundscapes, held together by the tasteful rhythm of Dylan White, Andrew Liorti, Josh Kestenberg, and Brent O’Toole. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have yet another mammoth emerging from the Guelph area, and you should not only listen for it, but join the layers of dialogue.