"From New York, vibist Mancini leads his ensemble to the Promised Land."
– James E. Fowler, LA Times
"In from New York City is the Nick Mancini Collective, led by an exploratory young vibraphonist with two toes dipped in tradition who splashes gentle swing, understatedly bent shoogabooga and exotic undersea layerings of filtered light. Original and good."
– Greg Burk, LA Weekly
Nick Mancini feels like a major jazz artist now. Take him for granted and kick yourself later, when seeing him gets too expensive.
The vibraphonist keeps on putting out fine records; he'll be tossing out his next on July 7 at the Blue Whale. He plays lots of venues all the time, in many configurations, all over town and beyond. And last Friday marked his seventh appearance at L.A. County Museum's prestigious free Friday patio series, the kind of tradition that doesn't line up accidentally.
Mancini has crafted a sound that crosses borders -- easy on the earholes, but complex enough to please eggheads, and original enough to leave avanteers uninsulted. Last year he was leaning in a percussive direction; with his most recent octet he's built on that to paint a wide field of melodic and harmonic lushness. And folks dig it.
A few impressions. Early on, the band tuned in to an unaccustomed spectrum of dark groove that recalled Miles Davis' 1969 "Bitches Brew" -- a feat made easier by similar instrumentation, with John Tegmeyer (clarinet), Danny Janklow (sax), Adam Ratner (guitar) and Mike Ragonese (keyboards) floating atop the low drive of Ben Shepherd (bass), Scott Breadman (hand drums) and James Yoshizawa (traps). The mood grew lighter as the sun edged lower, but the deep swing never ceased. Even if some grouch complained that titles like "Half and Half" and "Stepping Down" sounded too much like the titles and types of '80s contemporary fusion, the group's easy chemistry never reflected '80s sterility, or structure for structure's sake. It was just fun, with shadings ranging from balladic to Latinate, always sporting Mancini's trademark storyteller twists. You didn't have to pay attention, but he was there for you if you did.
Windmen Tegmeyer and Janklow (above) stayed together physically and musically, often completing each other's clean, energized solo thoughts. Ratner bent his head over his guitar as if to make sure that every improvisation met his specifications of logic and intrigue, succeeding on a level few older pickers ever get to. Mancini achieved a rare combination of leadership, flash and genialtiy -- these were all his own tunes, familiar without being imitative, fully layered via all those melodic options, and even if it was hard to pull the whole circus together while making his four mallets land in the right places, he didn't seem to be sweating. Even in that suit and tie.