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Album review: 'Samadhi'

Oct 1, 2020

“Samadhi” is a Sanskrit term referring to a state of heightened awareness, leading to communion with the divine. That may seem to be quite a reach for a record title, but on Jacám Manricks’ new album, “Samadhi,” you can feel the musicians aspiring to a lofty goal.

Manricks not only wrote all eight tracks (one is a collaboration), he also plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, and MIDI (synthesized) strings. His arrangements are unfailingly ambitious.

With Sri Lankan and Portuguese roots, Manricks was born in Australia to parents who were symphony orchestra musicians. His musical roots go back even further to his grandfather, a jazz clarinetist and saxophonist. Manricks began piano lessons at age 5 and picked up the alto saxophone at 9. Both his classical and jazz backgrounds reverberate in his music today.

Perhaps because of his diverse background and knowledge (he earned a doctorate in musical arts from the Manhattan School of Music), Manricks has a distinctive style of reed playing. While saxophonist John Coltrane was known for “sheets of sound,” Manricks’ style features gorgeous swirls of notes. In several tunes, notably “New Years Day” and “Formula One,” the swirls build to wild climaxes. He is also capable of funky, soulful playing as evidenced by his sound on “Day by Day.”

Manricks’ compositions and playing are superb throughout. His band, with Joe Gilman on piano, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Clarence Penn, couldn’t be more simpatico. Gilman solos beautifully on the title track and on “Ethereal,” the improvised final tune he co-wrote with Manricks. Penman plays an excellent bass solo on “New Years Day,” and Penn’s drums are featured on the relentlessly driving track “Schmaltz.”

Manricks, Gilman, drummer Tim Metz, and bassist Michael Gilbert will play "Samadhi" in a free live-streamed concert via YouTube at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10. Donations are welcome.