Friday, August 28, 2020

Jacam Manricks Reveals New Musical Dimensions On "Samadhi"

Saxophonist/composer Jacám Manricks marks his arrival as a full-fledged auteur on the splendid Samadhi, set for a September 4 release on his own Manricks Music Records. Already an accomplished composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and improviser, Manricks’s sixth album adds recording, engineering, producing, and mixing to his overflowing skill set. Thus it stands as a vision entirely of the leader’s own making—albeit with input from his high-caliber colleagues, pianist Joe Gilman, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Clarence Penn.

Samadhi is a Sanskrit term that refers to a state of heightened, holistic focus that allows for communion with the divine. Manricks uses that title not to announce his achieving it, but his goal of reaching it: “Getting to that state of intense concentration where everything else disappears around you and only the music exists,” as he explains in the liner notes. The wide spectrum of creative mastery he deploys on the album reflects that goal.

So does the music on display. Samadhi’s eight tracks (seven Manricks originals, with one improvised collaboration between the saxophonist and Gilman) feature a remarkable range of ideas and emotions, from the paradoxically bright yet tense opener “Formula One,” to the ruminative title track, to the playful “Common Tone” and the mysterious “Ethereal.” The range of textures and timbres is also formidable; Manricks plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones as well as clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, and MIDI strings (for which he wrote the orchestrations).

Of course, part of Samadhi’s purpose, Manricks says, is to allow him to flex these polymathic muscles. “It’s not just the horn anymore. It’s about me as a composer and orchestrator. It’s about what sort of environments I’m putting myself in and how I’m orchestrating colors within that. … ultimately trying to make something beautiful with rhythms and pitches”.

“I’m wearing so many hats,” he adds. “This is the culmination of a lot of things for me, and I’m extremely proud of Samadhi.”
Jacám Manricks was born in 1976 in Brisbane, Australia, the child of two classical musicians in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra—and the grandson of a celebrated Portuguese jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, and a Sri Lankan concert pianist. As a boy, Jacám quickly began finding a niche in this musical family, immersing himself in his father’s jazz records and in his parents’ concert performances. He began learning to play the piano at age five and the saxophone at age nine.

After receiving a degree in music performance (classical and jazz saxophone) from the Queensland Conservatorium, Manricks began making his way in the Sydney music scene before moving to New York in 2001 to study at William Paterson University. He earned a master’s degree in composition there, then a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Manhattan School of Music in 2007.

While at the Manhattan School, he composed and premiered a large-scale work, “Chromatic Suite for Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra,” for the school’s 90th birthday celebration. Its combination of classical and jazz traditions presaged Manricks’s 2009 debut album, Labyrinth, which blended a chamber orchestra with a venturesome jazz quintet. Trigonometry followed in 2010, then Cloud Nine in 2012, Chamber Jazz in 2016, and GilManricks in 2017. Each received international acclaim.

One could say that Manricks, with 16 international tours as a leader and countless credits as a sideman, has also graduated from the “real school,” particularly during his 13 years in New York working for luminaries such as Jeff “Tain” Watts, Tyshawn Sorey, and Elio Villafranca, to name a few.

Relocating to Sacramento, California, in 2014, Manricks spent five years teaching at the nearby University of California, Davis, working as a member of Sacramento’s Capital Jazz Project, running his own super sax style ensemble (Super Saxto) and leading his own 19-piece big band (Jacám Manricks Orchestra). Meanwhile, Manricks also learned the ins and outs of sound engineering, using that knowledge to build his own home studio where Samadhi was recorded and mixed.
“2020 has been rough,” says Manricks. “The pandemic is hitting the performing arts hard with prospects for safe public gatherings more than ever remote. The loss of artistically enriching events, which typically uplift and create our communities, imposes a cultural deficiency impacting the quality of life for all, including those working outside the arts industry. Therefore, it has never before been more important that artists create and where necessary find new ways to share our work. For me, this means producing new music and providing access to it through any means I can.

“In late June,” he adds, “I was bedridden for two weeks with COVID, quarantined in my son’s bedroom while my family remained safely at bay. During the entire shutdown and especially while quarantined, I’ve had more time to reflect on life, my personal goals, music and how it enriches our lives. One thing that became abundantly clear was that focused listening to music—the kind you do with your eyes shut—is an incredibly healing experience. Using your ears and mind to escape, meditating to music in search of beauty, we can find solace, inspiration, and a refreshed state of mind. Samadhi is being released during the shutdown for this purpose primarily. Go forth and find solace in this music.”

Manricks and his Quartet (with Joe Gilman, p; Michael Gilbert, b; Tim Metz, d) will be performing a CD release concert to be live-streamed on Saturday 10/10 at 5:30 pm Pacific time (see poster above right).
Photography: Lauren Jenkins

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