Bassist Michael Manson just released
his third CD, Up Front, on January 22 from
Nu Groove Records. I’m here to tell you this is a classy and
intelligent recording! It’s great to witness the growth and
progression of talented artists. For those who do not yet own a Michael
Manson CD (there are 3,) this would be the one to start with. And
if you already own his previous work, this one is a “must have.”
Between the superb musicianship, original compositions,
and excellent production qualities, there is an appealing sophistication
about this record. Up Front is such an
appropriate title for this fine musician who has worked hard to move
from sideman to center stage. And he’s up front in these
performances. His exceptional playing is perfection, carrying his
crisp, lyrical melodies like a songbird in flight. Manson plays with
deft prowess. His nimble fingers dance over the strings, with such
authentic tenderness and soul. His amazing dexterity makes him capable
of playing such melodies with great beauty. Because of this, it is
worth noting that it does not get tiring hearing bass as a lead instrument
throughout the album.
To record for the new songs, Manson pulled together
some of his best friends: George Duke, Jeff Lorber, Kirk Whalum,
Rick Braun, Najee, Norman Brown, Paul Jackson Jr., Tom Braxton, Nick
Colionne, Steve Cole, and many terrific backing musicians, including
a killer horn section. The result is a high level of ingenuity and
expertise. The production is full and lush with complex layers and
Manson has dedicated Up Front to
his wife, Lana. The album has 13 tracks: 4 brand new Manson
compositions, 2 covers (Babyface Edmonds and Bill Withers,) 5 tracks
are remastered from Manson’s previous albums; and 2 tracks
are reprises at the album’s end.
You may hesitate. Why do musicians reissue previously
released material? In this digital age of the music industry,
many CDs are hard to find on disc and it’s even possible back
catalog albums have not yet been released by the digital music stores. So,
it makes a lot of sense for artists to reissue top tracks along with
new material. Great songs are easily enjoyed over and over.
That’s why it didn’t bother me that half the album is
reworked from his previous offerings.
The album opens with “Bring It On,” a
new composition from Manson. That talented producer, Darren
Rahn puts together an easy groove, with Manson on lead bass. George
Duke solos on piano, Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar, Lenny Castro on
percussion. Darren Rahn shares the lead on sax, and also plays Rhodes
and keys. The tight horn section is the Rahn Brothers, Darren on
sax and Jason blowing trumpet and flugelhorn, which fills out the
Next is the funky and sultry “Coming Right
At Ya” which Manson wrote for his 2006 CD Just
Feelin’ It. “Coming Right At Ya,” features
Jeff Lorber on piano, Kirk Whalum on sax, Paul Jackson, Jr. on guitar,
and Lenny Castro on percussion. The track really gets cookin’ with
contributions from the brass section. Manson is in fine form on tenor
and piccolo basses.
Another new composition, “Steppin' Out,” features
Najee on melodic and feisty flute, the hot sax of Darren Rahn, and
that killer horn section. This track is interesting how it contrasts
Manson’s strong bass funk with the sweet, soaring flute and
“She’s Always There (For Lana)” is
new, written for his wife, Lana. It is a mid-tempo track, with a
romantic melody and brilliant interplay between Tom Braxton’s
stellar sax and Manson’s agile bass. It’s a fitting tribute
to their lasting love.
The romantic mood continues with a cover of Babyface
Edmond’s hit “End Of The Road.” Manson caresses
the melody and keeps good company with that luscious, warm sax of
Steve Cole. The vocals are tender and passionate as they harmonize
in a full choir sound.
In 2006, Manson wrote “It's The Way She Moves.” Manson
plays so beautifully against the standout percussion of Lenny Castro,
Tom Braxton’s soaring sax, and the great ensemble work of backing
band and brass section.
In 2002, Manson released his debut The
Bottom Line. His original composition “Outer
Drive” reached the Top 10 on the R&R Smooth Jazz
chart. Here it is “Outer Drive (Chicago Style)” and
has come to be my favorite track on the album. It is simply delicious
how Manson’s bass and Nick Colionne’s guitar play
off each other, complemented by flavorful accents of Lenny Castro’s
percussion. The horns really step out on this version. Michael
Logan adds some great texture on Rhodes. Manson’s agile
playing is top notch.
“Still Thinking About You” (2006) features
the distinctive guitar of Norman Brown. In this slower groove,
Manson makes his bass croon that gorgeous melody. It has a very nice
interplay of guitar, bass, horns, and full band.
Bring on the funk!!! The new Manson composition
and title track “Up Front” is up-tempo with a Tower-of-Power-like
horn section laid over Manson’s funky, funky bass groove. The
outstanding backing ensemble gets this track smokin’!
“Way Back When” in 2006, Manson wrote
this easy going song. It has excellent production qualities brought
by Jeff Lorber as producer. Lorber plays his trademark keys
alongside the unmistakable trumpet of Rick Braun on this very cool
You’ve probably heard this song enough for
3 lifetimes, but somehow this cover is so expertly rendered. Bill
Withers’ “Lovely Day” is, quite simply, lovely.
Manson’s bass lines sing along with Kevin Whalum’s lead
vocals and the wonderful backing choir of Armiriss Palmore, Trina
Davis, and Felica Coleman-Evans. It’s like a fresh breeze on
a sunny, spring afternoon. It feels good!
Tracks 12 and 13 are reprises of “End Of The
Road” and “Outer Drive,” respectively. There is
a spoken word component to this “End Of The Road.” The
relaxed reprise of “Outer Drive” has some fun improv
and is definitely worth listening to the end.
About this recording, Manson said, "In the making
of Up Front were moments of great joy,
extreme focus, and some very exciting performances. We've taken some
artistic license and ‘jammed’ a little more on this project. I've
made some new friends who have shared their gifts and old friends
who chimed in as well. I'm very excited to share this with the people
who love music. Enjoy."
I most certainly did, Mr. Manson! Thank
you for this extremely enjoyable CD filled great songs and expert
performances. It gets my enthusiastic recommendation.