Two Rooms Same Door
Sarah Manning is a skilled saxophonist. She gets a full, luxurious sound out of her alto, not altogether different from Kenny Garrett’s, though perhaps more polite. She also seems like a lovely person, judging from her liner notes and her banter between songs. Hell, Nat Hentoff likes her—he wrote the notes for her first album—and what better endorsement can one get? So I feel like the bad guy when I say I cannot in good conscience recommend her second album, Two Rooms Same Door.
This has nothing to do with her playing, her compositions or her band. Her approach to soloing is patient and thoughtful, her touch impeccable. Her tunes—she wrote the entire album—are complex sketches that provide plenty of room for rumination. Her rhythm section, including pianist Randy Porter, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Akira Tana, interact to a degree that suggests intense familiarity. In spite of all these ingredients, this is a frustrating album.
It was recorded in Nov. 2005, during Manning’s debut at the venerable Yoshi’s in Oakland, the kind of setting that can bring out the worst in an artist who is uncomfortable onstage. All of the nervous banter and giggling between songs is laid bare for all to hear, over and over. There’s too much of it to ignore. Consider “Phoenix Song,” the final third of the title suite. It’s a serious, weighty composition, but one that’s hard to take seriously after learning that it was inspired by a Harry Potter book. There’s a reason this stuff is edited out of most live albums.