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Manfred Mann's Chapter Three - Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Volume 2 CD (album) cover

MANFRED MANN CHAPTER THREE - VOLUME 2

Manfred Mann's Chapter Three

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.52 | 21 ratings

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Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 10/15P.: Bolder, but less consistent than its predecessor: fascinating music, adventurous fusion of free jazz and blues rock, but too much cacophony and noise and too little Manfred Mann

Volume 2 is the second Chapter Three record, and compared to Volume 1 the blues elements have been replaced by more jazz, at least to a big extent: additionally to the first line-up there are quite some studio musicians (all of them brass players, incidentally) who enhance the big band feeling of the music further. Thus, the music has also become more experimental, and especially the free jazz improvisations which were already to be heard on the previous record, reappear in a (sometimes) even more drastic way here: apparently, Chapter Three do not want to sound pleasant: they want to sound unsettled, baffling and (to those who listen to this music) fascinating: they want to be progressive, in a word.

Already when looking at the first song, Lady Ace, you'll see that Chapter Three take their time for their songs: this song is granted eight minutes of playing time, and so we also can enjoy big diversity here. The first part somehow sounds a bit like the Canterbury music of that time: a bluesy electric piano riff is played to a breezy jazz rhythm of the drums while Mike Hugg again sings with his own special soul voice, most effectively during the chorus when he also provides a nice backing vocal line. Interestingly, the catchy main riff is played on the (softly sounding) Wurlitzer and the (harsher) Rhodes and on some kind of fuzz guitar simultaneously which creates a unique tone. The surreal Canterbury feeling disappears abruptly when mighty big band fanfares enter, accompanied by beautiful jazz chords of the electric piano: it is quite understandable that Hugg later started writing film music. At 3:12 the fanfares are re-worked at a more up-beat speed, with a quite prominent, driving tambourine (perhaps the most important percussion instrument on this record), until from 3:42 to 5:28 Bernie Living plays a really experimental and furious free jazz sax solo which - because of this aggressive tone - could also fit on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew record. During this solo the brass section enters again and leads us back to the bluesy vocal part of the beginning until in the end a nice trumpet solo ends this varied piece in a nearly contemplative way.

Unfortunately in this piece, and even on the whole record, Manfred Mann is sadly understated: apart from the last three pieces I do not hear him at all, given that the only instrument he is playing here is the organ. But for instance when you listen to the saxophone solo of Lady Ace you notice a gurgling sound in the background which I believe to be the sound of a Mellotron, particularly the Mandolin registration.

But on I Ain't Laughing there again isn't the faintest hint at the attendance of any keyboard instrument: this piece is one of the Mike Hugg acoustic ballads, similar to Sometimes (from Vol. 1), but in this case merely played on the tambourine (again!), the acoustic guitar and a bass (which really delivers some really nice runs here which for me are the reason why this piece doesn't seem banal). Mike Hugg is now accompanied by some female backing voices that, in my opinion, are rather annoying because they don't fit the earthy sound of the rest of the record, instead of that creating some kind of gospel feeling here. And once more (just like on Vol. 1) we get a useless single version as a bonus track in which only the inferior sound quality and the mono mix differ from the original version.

In Poor Sad Sue things get more frantic again: actually, this jazz rock piece is strange enough with its stomping floor tom rhythm and the distorted electric piano. But imagine that this is getting combined with the violin sound of Curved Air or It's A Beautiful Day; then you have a nice picture of what you get here. In fact, the first minute still is well salubrious, particularly because the violin (just like the part between 0:38 and 0:48) in its combination with the grand piano spawns an elegant classical feeling, but the brute brass melodies in the second stanza already are quite promising that stranger things are yet to come: after Mike Hugg has played a wonderful jazz piano solo, the violin reappears again and hovers eldritchly in the background at 2:44 the whole band goes crazy for one and a half minutes, doing what some call 'free jazz' and what others think to be random noises; at least I am astonished every time how independent and courageous this group was, but also how well they integrated these experimental elements into more typical rock pieces. Afterwards, the vocal parts are repeated again until in the end the nightmarish brass and violin shrieks enter into the main riff and end the song in a disturbing way; but don't we know this structure already? Yes, Lady Ace and many pieces from the first album are constructed exactly the same way, this 'rondo' way of composing which is also really typical of jazz music with vocals: in the beginning a vocal part, then extensive soloing, the vocal part reprise and ultimately the fade-out with even more soloing.

Jump Before You Think makes a difference. After an eye-winking copy (for two alto saxophones) of the The Grass is Greener riff of Colosseum's Valentyne Suite the listener learns that this track is the showcase of Steve York's bass guitar skills: all those who missed York's adventurous melodies and that great, overdriven bass guitar sound from the 1969 piece Snakeskin Garter should be more than satisfied at that point. An ensemble of Latin percussion, later accompanied by a typical Western drum kit, makes the bass solo seem even more terrific. Later, the big band reprises the theme from the beginning again and paves the way for a beautiful saxophone solo which really gets the balance between tonality and atonality: the random notes appear again, but there also some nice melodies which sound catchier and more conventional. And the ending? Yes. Ad libitum saxophone notes for thirty seconds or so. A great piece of jazz fusion!

It's Good To Be Alive sounds melancholic and mournful and reminds me, well, of nothing that I know. A slow and dark jazz ballad, really pschedelic in its own way, and maybe the most consistent tune on the whole album. Andy McCulloch, drummer on King Crimson's Lizard, plays the drums here and does an outstanding work with his rolling fills. Still the most striking thing is that Mann successfully weaves a neo-classical and slightly dissonant instrumental part into the piece in which he arranges some real strings to a pretty surreal and great effect, always reminding me of mountains in an ocean of mist. By the way, I'm pretty sure that the rumour that these are Mellotron strings is false - it sounds to realistic for an MkII machine. The thing about which I have to complain are the hissing noises of the tape machine sometimes are even louder than the music: I don't understand how these tapes have been 'remastered digitally' here. Simply by recording some third generation tapes on a computer? Anyway, the music stands out.

With Happy Being Me we (presumably?) get the piece de resistance of that album, the longest piece of music that Manfred Mann has ever recorded with any line-up. The vocal part of the song is a light-hearted soul/pop piece with bluesy vocals and an infective groove where the acoustic guitar as well as the organ set the tone (yes, the first time Manfred Mann really appears on this record). The textless refrain breathes the spirit of Music Hall, featuring big band and female choir performing a certain melody unisono: some slight advertisement feeling here (just like Chapter Three's theme music for 'Ski Full of Fitness'), but quite a good melody. Directly before the lengthy improvisation part the listener has to bear this melody some further times, but afterwards he may enjoy a dedicated grand piano solo, played by whoever - perhaps Mike Hugg in which he proves himself as a talented both-handed jazz pianist with obvious classical influences. At about 4:10 strange choir wails are added before you hear another saxophone solo which I also think to be quite tasty rather than too much on the chaotic side. The first turning point happens at the end of this saxophone solo when the rhythm changes from the breezy pop shuffling to an intense, tribal rhythm with trance-inducing background melodies. Afterwards the first solo by Manfred Mann begins in which his usual percussive and distorted Hammond organ sound is revisited, albeit (unfortunately) for not too long. Mike Hugg reappears for some fairly chaotic, but fitting electric piano lines which stay for the whole piece and nearly sound like an African thumb piano/xylophone (like in the beginning of King Crimson's Lark's Tongues in Aspic). The saxophone also returns then and maybe reaches its peak of free-jazz madness, but in this case it really fits as the background music is intensified as well, then with another reprise of the chorus of the piece to this mesmerizing, tribal drumming. Ultimately the tribal rhythms disappear so that only the chorus melody is left, accompanied by gurgling multi-tracked saxophones. The real ending of the piece is really unexpected as Mike Hugg delivers a classically-sounding outro on the grand piano which leaves the previously dominating jazz behind for some short glimpses of pseudo-baroque chord progression.

The single version of this piece has a nice 'smoky' sound as if it directly comes from an old, long-forgotten tape. Of course, the cuts are very bad and unprofessional, but I nevertheless like it.

Virginia, the second Manfred Mann composition, follows directly and is an unspectacular pop song which would have been o.k. without the brass interludes which in my opinion again are far much too 'rioting' in the context of that plain pop song. The part which rescues the song from being totally boring is the organ solo which slowly builds up from silent playing to maximum distortion and fiery glissandi: the solo ends abruptly and is followed by yet another solo piano ending which reprises the vocal melody for half a minute.

The alternate mix in fact is the same mix like the album version which is only faded out before the organ starts rocking. The remaster, the bonus tracks and the make-up as well are (just like Vol.1) a major impudence towards the listener.

Evaluating the music in its overall impression leaves me complaining about the brass section. Sometimes, the saxophones seem to be busy trying to destroy any kind of atmosphere which has been created before laboriously. On the first record there were noisy improvisations, too, but they had a purpose and weren't just there for the sake of the noise. Here, this balance isn't maintained, and furthermore some pieces rely on one particular idea too heavily. Manfred Mann's absence on most of the pieces is a pity, too, especially given that the band project is named after him.

On the pro side there's they inspired interplay of the piano, the drums and the bass guitar. And even after 40 years you still shake your head, wondering how something like that came into being. Compared with the lots of failed jazz experimentation of the 1970s (endless solos, total atonality and pseudo-complexity), this one is still an exciting listen. Jazz fusion lovers, with special interest in free jazz, should of course own this album.

Because of the remaster quality, the points of criticism and because of the fact that I like the first album much more because it simply seems more coherent, I will give only a 3 star rating for a really good and progressive jazz rock album which is an usual, but exciting addition to a jazz fusion collection, but still a really tough listen with flaws.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |

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