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Phillip Manuel: Love Happened to Me

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Phillip Manuel teams up with a top-flight New Orleans crew for the vocalist’s MAXJAZZ debut. While the material ranges from interpretations of pop numbers like Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and Sting’s “Fragile” to the standards of “‘Round Midnight” and “These Foolish Things,” Manuel presents it in a classic, straight-on style. The singer, whose touring work with trumpeter Terence Blanchard brought him national attention, has an abundance of chops that he uses tastefully.

On “Only All of Me Will Do,” an original number by Manuel and producer Michael Pellera, a natural warmth fills his falsetto as he becomes one in the mix of instruments. The compositions by the Manuel/Pellera team, which matches the leader’s smart lyrics and Pellera’s strong melodic flair, produce some of the album’s best moments. Manuel shows off his scatting on the duo’s “In the Zone,” on which Peter Martin moves from piano to organ, then gets in the groove with guitarist Steve Masakowski.

The core of the cast includes Nicholas Payton on trumpet and flugelhorn, bassist Roland Guerin or Bill Huntington, saxophonist Brice Winston, and drummer Adonis Rose. Ellis Marsalis joins the rhythm section for the simple swing of “Just Squeeze Me.” Manuel takes few real risks on Love Happened to Me, but he offers a mature album that’s elegantly swinging and beautiful.