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Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Manfred Mann Chapter Three CD (album) cover


Manfred Mann Chapter Three


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.77 | 62 ratings

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4 stars 12/15P.: a groundbreaking album in the development of jazz rock. Much free jazz and big band sound here, but mixed up with darkest and most disturbing blues phrasings. Slow, lurking, gritty and tough stuff to sit through!

When the drummer of the very successful pop group Manfred Mann, Mike Hugg, had had enough of recording music which didn't suit his jazz&blues-influenced music taste he went to form a jazz fusion group with organist Manfred Mann in 1969 while Hugg himself took over the electric piano and the vocals.

The decision to form a jazz band sounds quite strange, but actually it isn't when you regard that nearly every Manfred Mann album contained at least one jazz number (i.e., One Way, Miss JD or already in 1964 Bare Hugg) or even some EPs full of totally freaked-out jazz rock covers of Rolling Stones and The Who hits in 1966 which - by the way - could be seen as one of the first progressive rock records ever. In 1969, Manfred Mann recorded their last single: on the a-side their hit Ragamuffin Man and on the b-side: A B-Side: an unspectacular title for a great, 5 minutes long slow blues-rocker with psychedelic flutes, dissonant vocal counterpoints and many solos of the organ and the guitar; parts of it were used for a cigar advertisement.

This is where Manfred Mann Chapter Two ended and where Manfred Mann Chapter Three began.

The same track was re-made as Travelling Lady, the same composition with nearly the same lyrics, on Chapter Three's debut album, albeit adding a strange intro with a mantra-like organ drone and a slow melody played by a kazoo (or something like that) and the organ simultaneously. After minutes the whole band enters with slightly distorted electric piano power chords and a groovy rhythm section. Mike Hugg's vocals sound absolutely untypical, in tone somehow like Robert Wyatt, but create a somber soul feeling and are just astounding. Apart from the wonderful blues licks of the electric piano one should also mention the mean big band arrangements that croak unexpectedly everywhere on this record; here they play the vocal counterpoints of A B-Side, and a real frantic alto saxophone squawks shrieking free jazz solos in the middle of the song: the music is some kind of acquired taste for people with noise tolerance, and even then you cannot listen to this always. But when you are in the mood, it could be one of the most impressing music you know. The mono version featured as a bonus track is shortened a bit and sounds more "vintage", but is - like most of the Manfred Mann remaster bonus tracks - entirely uninteresting.

Snakeskin Garter seems more relaxing in the beginning and heads off with a slow, funky organ groove whilst the refrain rather tends to the soul genre with melodic brass backing and a nice piano played well by Mike Hugg. But in fact, it is just a plain improvisation piece which may have been a great experience when played live in concert. The instrumental part in the middle consists of an outstanding rapid jazz organ solo in which Manfred Mann already shows what he is going to do in his Earth Band. Like everywhere on this album the Hammond organ doesn't ever sound like it actually should, but rather very aggressive and hooter-like (for the keyboarders among us: take a Hammond T or L organ, switch the percussion on, plug the organ into a guitar amp, turn the drive/gain knob to 100% and don't use a Leslie or vibrato effects!). The closeness between this strange organ registration and Manfred's later similar moog sound shows that he already had a clear vision of how his keyboards should sound: aggressive and revolutionary. The cream topping on this delicious improvisational cake is again Mike Hugg's piano in the background which should also be listened to closely. A further stanza leads into the last solo which is then faded out, an amazing jazz improvisation by bassist Steve York who ameliorates his superb playing by a real evil distorted tone. Konekuf is an instrumental track written by Manfred Mann who composed a big band tune which is - apart from a bombastic main theme which is played from time to time - actually a free jazz piece where the whole band plays frantic solo parts. The heavily distorted organ solo is a bit slower and creepier than the one in Snakeskin Garter; the strange kazoo-or-whatever-sounds from the Travelling Lady-intro are present again, just like some typical big band riffs. From 2:49 on to 4:03 the free jazz even gets a bit too strenuous for me as not only the saxophone but also the other brass instruments freak out furiously. Without the conventionally playing rhythm group this section would be really unlistenable, but anyway it is quite a musical revolution. Listen to Manfred's Ragamuffin Man afterwards which had only been recorded some months before and then see what I mean! The rest of the track finally calms down and gets quieter with a reprise of the main theme.

Another interesting aspect of the piece is that it is the beginning of when the Earth Band covered many Chapter Three pieces or took over good ideas: you can hear the main theme of Konekuf during the piece Messin' (4:33-5:42) before the guitar solo. Messin' itself originally was a blues rock piece by Mike Hugg which was recorded for the unissued Chapter Three Vol. 3 album; the original Messin' (as well as Fish which later became Saturn) are now published in Manfred Mann's Odds and Sods box set and can be purchased via iTunes.

The next piece Sometimes is a sympathetic folk song, a breezier and folkier pendant to King Crimson's I Talk To The Wind. Here, the brass section plays a catchy riff and manages playing very appropiately for this kind of music, something which I praise very much because there are many bands in which the brass instruments destroy atmosphere with inapt tooting. The classically-influenced piano interludes swirl beautifully through the song and add another prog facette to this ballad; Brian Hugg, Mike's brother who co-composed and also played in some songs of the band, adds some delicate acoustic guitar chords to the piece. Again, the mono version is a waste of CD space. It would have been more sensible to add the more romantic Volume 3-version of the track which reveals what the actual cause of Ch.3's decline was: not the experimental sound of the group, but Mike Hugg's wish to play acoustic love songs instead of jazz rock.

Devil Woman is mixture of King Crimson's Formentara Lady (with the haggard female choir) and the awkwardness of Ladies of the Road, perhaps adding a bit of early Soft Machine music: basically a slow blues piece with absurd rhythms and filled with strangeness. I never really loved this piece although the elaborate percussion work and Mike Hugg's piano soli which probably influenced Keith Tippet (King Crimson's Cat Food is similar) are quite all right. And again there is a single version which no-one really needs.

Time, the longest track on the album, then is my better preferred style of music: a slow bluesy piece with maximum-effect brass arrangements which - with the ghostly blues harp melodies in the background - would also work out fine as the title music of a Sherlock Holmes film. Apart from the consistently inserted sung stanzas (in the typically somber Ch.3 manner) the track is again some kind of jam piece with prominent use of brass instruments. The instrumental big band interludes are just awesome, or even the sole examples of big band music which I really love listening to: there are trombone passages with the characteristic bending/glissando effects (0:54-1:01), jazzy saxophone riffs directly afterwards or some solos like a one-and-a-half-minutes long frantic-aggressively played flute solo by Bernie Living in which he tears the lurking sedateness of the previous part into sharp-edged bits. At the end, jazz trumpet legend Harold Becket, who also played with Charlie Watts, Robert Wyatt and Alexis Korner, plays a concluding trumpet improvisation which might be superb from the jazz listener's point of view but, even though it's no skin off my nose, doesn't catch my attention: I don't understand why this guy merely participated in this 90 second outro for this album which is mixed quite in the background as well. The strange drum rhythm with the accents on the third and sixth eighth is in my opinion more interesting, even though I believe that Mr. Beckett could have been pushed in the spotlight slightly more by simply giving him a better position of his solo in the track, not the fade-out about which you will never care as much as you would do about the centre parts of a song.

You cannot imagine my confused look when I heard One Way Glass as a sample in this so-so Kick-Ass film in 2010; you know, this Stand Up tune by the Prodigy. Strange is this world! The original piece is the next case where a Ch. 3 track would later be covered by Manfred Mann's Earth Band. But what Earth Band fans might know as a slow acoustic ballad with delicate electric guitar and moog solos is presented in a more 'upbeat'-manner here; in fact it is the most rock-like track on this record, commencing with a groovy bass guitar riff and a driving drum rhythm hinting at what Craig Collinge would later do with his proto punk band Third World War. Manfred Mann takes over the lead vocals on his song and his softer, ethereal voice is quite pleasant and creates a typical late-60s, psychedelic atmosphere. Apart from the catchy instrumental refrains (played by the brass section) there are some distracting free jazz alto saxophone soli in between which somehow destroy the light feeling of the track. Perhaps this effect has been included knowingly, but I don't consider it to be fitting or adequate here.

Mister You're A Better Man Than I could be the second Time, at least in speed and feeling, albeit being more depressed and dark. In fact, it was composed in 1962 or 1963 for the Yardbirds who made it become a hit, and when you compare the Yardbirds version with the one featured here: the difference couldn't be bigger. Again, there are great and slow stanzas with extensive improvisation parts inbetween. Additionally to the nice bass guitar Steve York also takes over some creepy lead guitar parts in this piece, although their distant, hollow sound again differs much from what one would expect, but where do the (that's what I thought first when I looked through the CD booklet when I was a child) five weird-looking guys do what the listener wants them to do? >>[The record] represents in general what we personally have been wanting to do for some years.<< This explains everything. The little fascinations here are the beautiful flute+saxophone harmonies (1:38) that also occur inbetween the first electric piano solo; the second stunner is that kind of menuet by Bach or so, or the imitation of a work like that. I've never understood more clearly (after half an hour of jazz rock music) that classical music doesn't only differ from jazz in its instrumentation, but extremely much in melodics and harmonics as well. The last stanza then pushes the flute into the spotlight which counterpoints the melody magnificently.

Ain't It Sad is the next surprise. A short hippie-gospel pop song with Manfred Mann's cheesy 60s Do Wah Diddy Diddy organ, recorders, congas and Steve York on a light-hearted mouth organ. In spite of its length Manfred is given the second half of the song for his rasp organ solo.

Where Am I Going is an outstanding ballad, primarily featuring Hugg on the grand piano and vocals, an instrumentation which results in a very gentle and emotionally touching feeling, especially with the wonderful jazz chords. (The chord progression of the stanzas is pretty good to jam on the piano!) The bass guitar and the drums (essentially: the ride cymbal) enter for a relaxed swing rhythm - especially the bass creates a mellow sound carpet. The grand piano solo in the middle of the song shows that Mr. Hugg is not only a good drummer (Manfred Mann of the 60s) and a good rock keyboarder, but also a suitable pianist for balladesque music.

Between these two numbers (which already sound just like parts of the unissued Vol. 3 album) there is Manfred Mann's instrumental piece A Study in Inaccuracy which actually is a free jazz piece for the brass instruments and the band. The beginning - despite the aggressive sound and the odd melodies - still sounds a bit catchy as it uses parts of the 12-bar-blues-scheme which we all know. But already at minute 1 the band is already losing itself in musical madness with bullfroggish sounds by the trombone and other assorted effects. In the middle of the track, the music fades out and then returns again, accompanied by bombastic choir recordings which only have nothing to do with the track itself and which were already faintly to be heard in the beginning. This idea should also later be used in the similar track Glorified Magnified on the eponymous Earth Band record. In this case, the alternative version of the track is one minute longer and thus has a much bigger surplus value, especially for those who enjoy the free jazz furiousity: here, the part before the fade out in the middle is left longer than it is on the album version.

My biggest criticism about the album is the reissue and how it was done. The sound doesn't sound remastered at all: the problem of the record isn't the recording of the instruments but rather the big amount of hiss and other technical problems. In fact, Mr. You're A Better Man Than I (the electric piano solo) and the quieter parts of Sometimes feature the loudest hiss that I have ever heard on a record, and this is a point where re-mastering has to do something against it. Special thanks to Barry Winton for supplying the covers at the last minute!, the re-master credits say (which merely include names of people and not the faintest sign of interesting information, by the way). And this lovelessness is reflected everywhere: small, but irritating formatting or spelling mistakes, bad-quality-scans of the original artwork, totally uninteresting and redundant bonus tracks and the simply typewritten original album credits without any more information are beginner's mistakes and show an utter unprofessionality. At least there is a short text on Chapter Three's history...

The music is in a word exciting, probably too much at some places. But the album should be (or: has to be) mentioned in a row with Valentyne Suite or In The Court of the Crimson King as one of the first real progressive rock albums. But if you want to really like this record you should be able to cope with free jazz cacophony; like I already said, these noises are a bit too much for me at some places. Thus I rate the album with a good 4 point rating and recommend it to every jazz rock fan.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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