I've come across comments saying that Mann - like the Modern Jazz Quartet, George Shearing, or Stan Getz - isn’t considered a true Jazz great and that he, like the others, played in a decidedly mainstream scene with a primarily white audience on stylistic trips through Classical (the Quartet) or World music (the others).
Granted, several of Mann’s later albums (of those I've heard), were filled with rather uninspired and slick incarnations of his former self, but you gotta give the guy some credit for his earlier accomplishments as well.
The Latin-tinged At the Village Gate
was recorded and released a year before Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba
, the album that triggered an entire wave of Bossa albums, while his Afro Jazz Sextet, with its lineup of vibes, bass, flute, and no less than three percussionists wasn’t your average act, and with musicians with roots in Puerto Rico (percussionist Ray Mantilla), Sudan (bassist Ahmad Abdul-Malik) and Russia (Mann himself), the result was bound to be exotic.
At the Village Gate
captures this exciting band while they knew they were ahead of their game and creating a unique, entrancing, sweeping blend of easygoing Jazz and subtly intoxicating World music. Though the music substitutes technical flashiness with grooves and laidback beats guaranteed to make your bottom jiggle, there’s always a sense of extreme tightness and hypnotic interlocking to these tracks.
The most successful minimalist example of this approach is the album’s hit “Comin’ Home Baby”, that starts off with 32 beats of the same bass note, after which Mann and vibes man Hagood Hardy introduce the theme, over which Mann lays down his variations. Equally cool is Hardy’s own solo, especially because you’ll hear him hum along to his own playing, after which composer Ben Tucker – a second bass player! – delivers an awesome solo on the upright bass. The simplest of tunes (apparently), but enthralling like very few other Jazz tracks, “Comin’ Home Babe” belongs in the pantheon of repetitive greats. I’ll never forget the time when a friend and I were listening to the song while at Uni, and we were suddenly interrupted by the guy next door who stormed into the room asking if we weren’t being driven mad by the recurring bass notes, which was the only thing he could hear next door. Anyway, do check it out.
by Reviewer: Guy Peters
(blogging at Guy's Music Review Site