|Bass-master Mike Manson moves from
sideman to center-stage on his solo debut The Bottom Line. His passion
and precision are displayed with both unrelenting power and laid-back
grace on the album that, he says, "reflects the deepest expression
of all I have felt making music for the last twenty years."
For Mike Manson the bottom line has always been great music. Since
he first picked up a guitar (not a bass), he has moved persistently from
strength to strength, one association leading inevitably to another in a
career that has brought him front and center with the most esteemed
names in jazz, gospel, R&B, rock and pop.
On his solo debut, Manson is joined by some of his friends, who
just happen to be among the hottest names in contemporary music,
including famed keyboardist and trombonist Brian Culbertson,
chart-topping saxophonist Kirk Whalum, guitarists Paul Jackson, Jr. and
Ray "The Weeper" Fuller, percussion legend Lenny Castro and
Ron Haynes playing fluegelhorn.
Produced by the artist himself, with co-production on selected
tracks by Culbertson and keyboardists Tim Gant and Elgin Manson, The
Bottom Line's 11 tracks (nine songs and two reprises) offer up a range
of jazz, R&B and pop magic.
Four of Bottom Line's nine songs were composed exclusively by Manson: the opening track "Outer Drive," with itís infectious smooth groove; the gentle urban "Keys To My Heart," featuring Manson and Whalum, both displaying their trademark melodic mastery; "Just One Touch," which is a perfect fit and probable hit for NAC; and the title track "The Bottom Line." The latter percolates with funky rhythms, amazing soloing and features the bottom line in all popular music, the rhythm section, Oscar Seaton on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion and, of course, Mike "The Man" Manson, soloing with extraordinary virtuosity and finesse. Brian Culbertson and Steve Cole also deliver some potent trombone and saxophone; the ensemble ups the voltage on the songís stirring reprise, the album's final track.
Manson co-wrote the evocative "Goin' Home" with his
brother Elgin and Ed Tucker, and the romantic "Close Your
Eyes" with his wife Lana, which includes some soulful vocal
shadings by TJ. The urban-flavored Babyface-penned song "Seven
Whole Days" and the bass-drenched cover of "Everlasting
Love" (originally a hit for Rufus with Chaka Khan in 1977) both
feature Nanette Franks. Lana Manson also contributed the spirit-infused
Manson intones, "This album has been a long time coming. Up
until now, I've documented everyone else's music and I've done it with a
style and flair that's my own, but it feels really good to document this
music for myself, to have my own voice."
Manson's uniquely lyrical voice has its roots in Chicago,
Illinois. He recalls, "My grandmother and mother played piano, but
no one else in the family was really involved in music. My dad had an
old beat-up folk guitar that he never picked up and so my older brother
and I got interested in music about the same time-I was fourteen-and
started playing it. After that, we bugged my mom to buy us some
instruments. She finally bought my brother a guitar and me a $25.00 bass
and a $25.00 amp that we shared".
"The first artist I was interested in was Al Jarreau and I
started practicing to his music," Manson reflects. "I was
greatly influenced by Abe Laboriel, who was Jarreau's bassist at the
time. My mom was into gospel and Abe also played with the Winans and
Manson joined the school band program and his innovative and
resourceful side came to the rescue, which may account for his
expansive, bold and melodic approach to the bass: "They didn't have
a tuba player, so I ended up playing tuba parts on the bass."
At age fifteen, he formed the group Togetherness with a few of his
friends, ultimately recording an album and two singles. "We tried
to be the next Isley Brothers or Earth Wind and Fire." The group
stayed together for six years and then Manson took a year off, joining
the Navy, where he was quickly recruited to play bass for the Navy
Returning to Chicago State University, he joined the Chicago State
Gospel Choir and, in Manson's words, "things started snowballing."
One gig or association would lead to another, with Manson playing with
one Gospel great after another: Tramaine Hawkins, Vanessa Bell
Armstrong, Jessy Dixon and James Cleveland. He even played on the
Winan's album All Out, only the first of many times he would perform
with childhood musical heroes.
After his graduation from Chicago State University with a Bachelor
of Arts in Music, he went on to complete a Masters in Music Performance
at Northwestern University. In 1995 Manson met Steve Finkle (now Steve
Cole) who was playing with Brian Culbertson. Soon Manson was playing the
Chicago club circuit and touring in support of Culbertson's City Lights.
Manson went on to record selections on Brianís After Hours in '97.
That same year, one of his gospel connections put him together with Kirk
Whalum, and he ended up playing on the Dove and Stellar-Award nominated
"The Gospel According To Jazz." Recorded live at the Roy Acuff
theatre, it featured Whalum, George Duke and Paul Jackson Jr. "That's
how I met George Duke in '97," quips Manson.
Manson's association with Duke ultimately led to the gig of a
lifetime. George, who was the musical director and a featured artist on
the Montreux Jazz tour (summer of 2000), invited Manson onboard, where
he shared the stage with his greatest childhood hero, Al Jarreau, along
with David Sanborn, Roberta Flack and Joe Sample. Pal Kirk Whalum said
with typical good humor, "After that tour you could have retired."
But Manson is just getting started. Through Kirk, he met Larry Carlton
and toured with him before and after his chart-topping Fingerprints
album. Kirk also included him on his "Hymns In The Garden"
album that garnered a nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album at this
In the midst of all this, Manson was invited to Montreux to record a celebration of that cityís famed jazz festival, entitled Casino Lights '99. Manson shared the stage with Warner Bros. Records artists Larry Carlton, Kirk Whalum, Boney James, Rick Braun, Kenny Garret, George Duke and Kevin Mahogany. Other Warner artists featured on the album included Fourplay (with bassist Nathan East), Bob James and Gabriel Anders. Released in October of 2000 to critical acclaim, it is being followed by a DVD release in 2001. Manson says of the event, "Casino Lights '99 was an incredible experience, in that it was the best of music. We weren't really trying to be marketable, we were just trying to make great music and thatís what made it exceptional fun. Lots of times you have to gear your music to an audience, but In Europe itís different. It was, in the literal sense, a jam session. Every time I play I look for that magic, that energy that comes from a group of players."
"There are musical conversations that are intriguing and I
hope the audience shares in that. But it is just great for musicians to
communicate in that way. That's the joy of music. To make great music
like that every night, that's what it's all about."
As if his packed touring schedule, recording schedule and slate of
award-winning projects werenít enough, Manson is also an in-demand
producer, composer and arranger. Most recently, he co-produced "I'm
Gonna Miss You" on Brian Culbertson's album called Secrets (a
tribute to legendary manager Howard Lowell, who recently passed away),
did string arrangements on R&B group Blacque's self-titled album,
while Ricky Dillard and Stellar Award-winning The New Generations
Chorale recently recorded his composition, "In His Name."
With the release of The Bottom Line, Manson plans to tour with his
own band in support of his solo debut, as well as continuing to tour
with George Duke and Kirk Whalum. "I loved recording the album. I
do sessions and I love it, but enjoy playing live most of all. When you
play live, you have the joy of seeing the audience react immediately.
It's a great feeling!" He adds: "I want to write more songs
and, hopefully, do some more tours with multiple artists. That was sooo
For Mike Manson, love of musical communication, exploration, collaboration and celebration is clearly what itís all about. His stellar solo debut reflects Manson's unabating passion with joy and inspired artistry and that is the bottom line!!!