Neighbourhood is the ECM debut as a leader of French-African drummer Manu Katche. It is beautifully recorded and without a single unpleasant musical moment. It is also one of the most disappointing ECM albums in years. The lineup creates extremely high expectations: Tomasz Stanko on trumpet, Jan Garbarek on saxophones and two-thirds of Stanko's superb young Polish rhythm section, pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz. It is hard to believe that such a band could make a pale, shallow, merely pretty record, but under Katche's leadership, they do exactly that.
As a percussionist Katche is given to set little patterns and grooves. The 10 tunes are all Katche originals, and they are like his drumming: polished, light, always neatly resolved and a little too sweet. A bit of fluff like "Take Off and Land" is probably as silly as anything Stanko has ever signed up for. Garbarek and Wasilewski also sound like cautious, diluted approximations of themselves.
The presence of so much talent combined with the absence of creative tension makes this project feel like a practice session by a great pro-football offense--say, the Indianapolis Colts. They run through plays at half speed, with no opposition. It's not a real game. Nothing counts.