The question offered when reviewing Manu Katché's Neighbourhood was, "Can a rock drummer fit into the jazz world?" The answer, in most cases, is a definite "maybe." For Katché, the question is almost an invalid one as his role inside the music of artists such as Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Tori Amos leans more toward percussionist/orchestrator — that is, Katché's accents and sly colorations brought out details that I'd be willing to bet the songwriters were initially unaware of.
On Playground, Katché's quintet — augmented by guitarist David Torn on two selections — spend a lot of time not only extracting inner detail from the compositions, but shaping that detail into different forms. More important, they sound like they had fun doing it. Imagine that, a fun jazz record… and you thought it was all stuffy listening and tweed-jacketed fans!
"Morning Joy" is a great example. The tune begins as an uptempo vamp that Katché supports with an almost rock-like force. After two spins through the theme, Katché drops back to the relative quiet of brushes and side sticking. Bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz follows the lead as trumpeter Mathias Eick constructs a solo that slowly retraces the original theme. As the horn's intensity builds, the rest of the group increases the heat. After another restatement of the head, Marcin Wasilewski (piano) has his turn. This structure, an almost pop music verse/chorus/verse thing, is a departure from the usual jazz form of head/solo(s)/head, one that allows the energy to build in a different sort of way.
Reflecting the nature of Katché's kit work, this quintet's hallmark is subtle interplay. Phrases are set out only to be transformed and extended by the next instrument. On the opening "Lo," Eick's trumpet turns into David Torn's chiming guitar. A neat trick, yet one that feels perfectly natural.
To my ears, the "secret weapon" of Katché's quintet is the sax/trumpet pair of Trygve Seim and Mathias Eick. On songs like "Inside Game," and "Motion," the horn lines almost seem like they're of one mind. Of course, there's a reason for this. The two have known each other since they were kids. This relationship results in musical ideas that splinter off each other while managing to give support to the underlying composition. Great stuff.
Katché says that while he may not work in the quintet format forever, it's how he's hearing music at the moment. It's my hope that he hears the music like this for a few more go rounds. 'Accessibility' is most often a pejorative term when discussing jazz, but on Playground, Manu Katché has taken a big step toward erasing that stigma.