Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Sarah Manning Creates Art Out of Her Environment

Forces of nature

Saxophonist Sarah Manning in the 2011 Tanglewood Jazz Festival's Jazz Cafe
Sarah Manning

On Sarah Manning’s fourth album as a leader, Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone), the whole is greater than the sum of its disparate influences and ideas-a New England barn owl, a Bernard Herrmann score, Aaron Copland, Gillian Welch, tricky changes in time, atmospheric soundscapes. The alto saxophonist and composer, who has performed with John Zorn, Zion80 and drummer Allison Miller, among many others, straddles the line between folk and jazz. She brings an eerie dissonance to an Appalachian sound, with a round tone that frequently hangs over the bar. As a vegan and animal rights activist, her relationship with the natural world informs her work deeply. “As humans, we are very disconnected from the natural world,” says Manning, 37. “Nature is enormously powerful, and there is a dissonance there. It’s not just idyllic beauty.”

The album includes eight originals and loosely interpreted covers of Welch’s lilting “I Dream a Highway” and Neil Young’s plaintive ballad “On the Beach.” Several of the originals are composed in 3, favoring the rhythmic pulse of a jazz waltz, and Manning otherwise employs Elvin Jones’ Coltrane Quartet-era ¾ polyrhythmic feel. But timbre and texture are central, and Manning’s alto finds a fertile complement in Eyvind Kang’s viola. In the rhythm section are drummer Jerome Jennings and bassist Rene Hart, who demonstrate their straight-ahead and avant-garde bona fides with admirable restraint. Guitarist Jonathan Goldberger fills out the lineup, using electronic effects to create a dense ambient backdrop. “By bringing me and Eyvind Kang in, she wanted to push it into other worlds,” says Goldberger. “There’s a big contrast for me as to whether I’m bringing color or whether I’m just playing the instrument. … I try to approach the pedals I use as an instrument in and of themselves.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published