The seven-track album traces its roots back to Manin's debut Rattle release Trio in 2010, which was one of the label's first releases by improvising ensembles and helped define the company's aspiration to document new works for small groups in New Zealand. Like Trio, Shark Variations is preoccupied with musical expression and innovations, and no concessions have been made to modifying demands of the music for the sake of preconceived notions about accessibility. Indeed one of the tracks is called Don't be afraid. Yet other titles that encourage are Circling In, and Choices, tending towards soft and melodious expression, while Wake up Call has the sax and rippling drumbeats moving much more briskly. The other tracks are Wairoa or L.A., Meeting at Union Square, and Makos and Hammerheads.
The musicians are close friends and obviously enjoy their improvisations together, each having their opportunities for good solos and exploring their music that gives this recital a vibrant energy as themes and ideas are lovingly explored. The agreeable disc is nicely played and well recorded (by Rattle's in-house engineer Steve Garden.) No sign of shark attacks in these variations!
- Shark Variations. Reuben Bradley (drums), Roger Manins (saxophone), Brett Hirst (bass). Rattle CD
Verdict: Smooth, enjoyable jazz explorations.