Noon Concert Series review: Joe Manis quartet

Joe Manis, a tenor saxophonist, bandleader and educator based in Eugene, gave an unusual concert Thursday, Nov. 3 in Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall room 75. The room was crowded but not completely packed—music majors are required to attend a certain number of these noon concerts, which take place every Thursday and are open to all Portland State students.

Manis, who also teaches at PSU, normally performs and records in a trio setting, often with fellow PSU instructor George Colligan on organ. Recently, though, Manis has been experimenting with a two-drummer lineup, taking inspiration from jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, both of whom sometimes recorded and toured with two drummers (most notably on Coltrane’s Mediations and Coleman’s Free Jazz).

For this concert, Manis was joined by Charlie Doggett, who plays locally with the illustrious Pacific Northwest bassist and bandleader David Friesen, and Alan Jones, who teaches at PSU and runs his own music academy. Portland legend Dave Captein rounded out the quartet on upright bass.

The Vanguard caught up with Manis before the show, and he spoke of his relationship with drums and drummers. He is an amateur drummer himself, which helps him both with writing parts and with teaching student drummers. Manis has recently been playing frequently with Doggett and praised Jones as “someone I’ve been listening to since I was a high schooler.”

Interview with Joe Manis and highlights from the concert. Matthew Andrews/PSU Vanguard

The quartet burned through five songs in their brief hour at Lincoln Hall: two Manis originals, two Coltrane classics, and one tune by Colligan. Everyone seemed to be having a terrific time, although the drummers were unquestionably the stars of the show. Doggett and Jones each have their own unique approach to playing the kind of hard bop free jazz that Manis favors, and they complemented each other well.

Careful listening combined with assertive playing is the essence of good jazz; most drummers excel at one or the other, but these drummers were wonderful listeners as well as bold players. I must say, though, that there were a few moments when the drummers took over. Manis frequently stepped off the stage altogether to watch his chimerical creation run away with the music, while Captein laid down steady grooves around which the drummers could weave their dense polymetric magic.

Sax and bass did get their turn, though. Manis played beautifully throughout, and delivered particularly blistering solos on Coltrane’s “India” and his own odd-metered “Paw-Paw,” named for his son Ellery’s nickname for Manis’ father. Captein, meanwhile, reminded me of Coleman’s revolutionary bass player Charlie Haden.

During his complex and exciting solos, Doggett and Jones brought the fire down low while Captein stretched his large hands over harmonically dense and insanely difficult double and triple-stops, complicated percussive arpeggios, and expressive melodic forays up the fingerboard far into the instrument’s highest register. It’s not just any bass player who can hold his own against a pair of loud bop drummers, and I thought Captein handled himself quite well.

The hour passed too quickly, and sadly the quartet didn’t have time to play one of their rock covers; I overheard them working on the classic Led Zeppelin tune “The Ocean” before the show, and I was sorry no one else got to hear it. Maybe next time.

Catch more of PSU’s Noon Concert Series. Artists performing this term include jazz vocalist Jeff Baker (Nov. 3), The Devine Femme (Nov. 10), and the Northwest Piano Trio (Nov. 17).