Been playing this CD repeatedly, on and off, for several weeks now to nail down its obvious strengths and somewhat more elusive faults; what's most captivating is that HOUSE ON EDDY STREET is solid enough to make it clear that Sarah Manning will become an estimable voice. Not yet, but soon. Her bleating, sincere tone on the alto saxophone is singular and I'm looking forward to see where she takes it. Tonically, I think she hails from the Yusef Lateef School (and if there isn't one there should be), to whom this CD is dedicated. Her melodies don't have Lateef's sense of hyper- 'what if' about them, but they do play neat games with the 8-tone scale that make one raise an eyebrow. She also appears able to keep her quartet (Randy Porter, piano; John Wiitala, bass; Akira Tana, bass) nicely off balance so that they don't fall into any moldy patterns we've heard too often already from long-infamous journeymen I won't mention.
A similar young lion I've heard recently for the first time is Mark Turner, whose personality is moving in a similar direction and whose Warner Brothers release of a few years back, DHARMA DAYS, is work digging for; unlike Turner, Ms. Manning's melodic ideas don't have as strong a sense of forward motion. Soloing is her strong suit: a lengthy break on the Bob Dorough - reminiscent "Of Lions and Mailboxes" (I'm flashing on "Nothing Like You" to an extent) features her landing nimbly on Tana's snare and tom pops, rather as if they were sharing solo space. Nice trick. Trumpeter Mike Olmos is a dancer on his instrument; "Powell Street Yowl" starts with a jumping theme like unruly morning auto horns, to which Olmos weaves tones about and between. Not bad! Randy Porter's break thereafter has a crystalline attack with some of Keith Jarrett's crispness, and Ms. Manning takes it out with her most swinging statement, on the money with beguiling leaps between notes. The restatement of the theme has a cool Tadd Dameron turn-around; again, nicely executed.
Elsewhere, "Zooey" has a Monk-like humor but it's a chunk of a thought, not the complete thought, and is dropped after only about a minute. Bassist Wiitala livens the half-contemplative, half gazelle-like "Musashi" with some woody slapping, but said tune seems to be pulling in two directions at once. The title piece takes a while to get going but when Porter hits stride with some chiming scraps of vamp, Manning vaults out of the gate with a concentration reminiscent of 1961-era 'Trane. Breathtaking.
But maybe that's the fault I'm trying to nail down. These performances are certainly of a very high order but the inventive moments, clinically precise and individual as they can be, don't always 'bop' dead-on. Equally, the intervals of convincing swing do not always cater to the cerebrum. I think what we're hearing is the undercarriage of a developing style, not at this time the style itself. If Jazz is to keep moving, the young lionesses gotta get out there and keep gigging. So I'll have to say Ms. Manning is most diverting for what she will do next. But this CD is worth it if you'd like to say you knew of her when.
by Kenneth Egbert
New Sounds - May 2004