Manteca At The Mensa Disco
September 19, 2013 7:20 pm by David Farrell
It’s shortly after nine Wednesday morning and Manteca co-founder Matt Zimbel has been up several hours taking care of business. The night before his nine-piece band rocked the Monarch Tavern, an historic and hallowed neighborhood public house tucked on Clinton Street in a leafy section in Toronto’s downtown.
The Tuesday night performance was the launch pad for Monday Night at the Mensa Disco, Manteca’s 11th album, recorded in three days with three-time Juno Award winning engineer Jeff Wolpert at Revolution Recording, one of the city’s top-end studios that features a main salon that musicians such as Neil Peart describe as “the best sounding room we’ve ever recorded in.”
Partner in the studio, Kim Cooke is at the album launch. He’s as enthused about the new album as Zimbel is about the studio and has offered to distribute it through his boutique label Pheromone Recordings. The band has accepted the offer, which means, as of next week, Monday Night at the Mensa Disco will be available online as well as in better music shops across the nation.
Making records has changed a lot since Manteca launched itself in 1979, shaking up the jazz world with an infectious dancebeat of sinewy rhythms, insinuating melodies and musicianship that grabbed attention from fellow musicians as well as youthful audiences that, for the first time, were listening to jazz in a positive light.
In fact its been a wild ride, starting out on Ready, moving to Duke Street and then Justin Time Records. Thirty-plus years on, Manteca has learned to take matters in hand. Not because it wanted to necessarily. Several notable councils and foundations rejected the band’s application to fund the new album. So they did it themselves, using the pledge funding site, Indiegogo. The goal was to raise $20,000 and the fans topped it by several grand more. With additional support from the Ontario Arts Council, the funds have been used to record the album and a couple of videos. Life is different these days. Fans funding and self-management. Julien Paquin at Paquin Entertainment continues to handle international representation for the band.
The album was recorded in three days, but the writing and arrangements took three years with Zimbel in Montreal zipping files back and forth with Manteca’s pianist and principal composer Doug Wilde in Toronto. The two discussed their progress on Skype.
The catchy title is a Zimbel invention about a club where smart people go to dance and the doorman asks patrons to show some IQ at the door. “Mind Monday” opens the album with a feast of horns leading to a gentle interplay between the rhythm section components.
Manteca’s new material broadcasts a strikingly smart maturity in the arrangements. Less identifiably Latino, this is jazz that is elegant, sophisticated but still has swing and is rich in melodic undercurrents that tease and capture the ear. It is also jazz that speaks to audiences young and old and Tuesday night caused a runway of attractive females to stand up and sway to the music like palm fronds in a gentle breeze.
The mood that night at the club was low-current electric. The audience attentive without being priggish, as is often the case at jazz concerts these days.
Zimbel is an exuberant showman, humorous raconteur, enthusiastic band-leader, superb percussionist, and mentor to fellow musicians. His leadership in the band is egalitarian, at least on stage-but when you have the kind of exceptionalism Manteca’s five-piece rhythm section and four-piece horn line display, one can afford to be democratic. The latest addition is east-coaster Pat Kilbride whose bass playing led my partner at the club to comment that she had never heard anyone play as well before, and she has been listening to jazz since before she was a child and still camped out in her mother’s womb.
I will leave saying more about Monday Night at the Mensa Disco to the review Kerry Doole will post next week. I will, however, add my piece in saying that Monday Night at the Mensa Disco deserves more than insider awards and enthused reviews that speak to a narrow reach of people. It’s the kind of record Polaris needs to shine the spotlight on and CBC MusicBack Stage Pass and Radio 2 should get behind.
As for the show, Manteca needs a pass that leads straight to Koerner Hall and then find itself in full glory in amphitheatres and major festivals next summer. Anything less would be hiding brilliance from plain view.