Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: July 2003
CD No: BON VOYAGE RECORDS BVRCD21
It’s been three years in coming, and found Roberto Manes hanging out in Madagascar to secure the right vibes … Fihavanana has been worth the wait. Given the diverse musical and logistical interplay of Phoenician Dream from 1999 (featuring Rory Gallagher in what was an electrifying collaboration), what Manes has attempted here is not a follow-up, rather an elaboration of its stylistic range and involving musicianship. And, whether taken in part or (preferably) in whole, there’s little doubt that the new album hits the mark.
A real expressive depth is evident in the opening track ’Pascale’ – its mood carried over into the sly phrasing and percussive underlay of ’Echoes of the Kinnor’, then offset by the caressing chic of ’Romantic Tour’ (the one group composition). Before either of these, the breezy ensemble workout ’Land of Chameleon – intro’, acts as an entree into the eponymous main track – Silo Lovasoa’s Fender Rhodes sharing the honours in a number where Manes stretches out. ’Tsy Maninona (don’t worry about it)’ picks up on the impetus (Toty’s bass a real gas), then ’Hommage au Corps de Ballet’ deflects it along the lines of an equable, keyboard-clad routine.
An import from an earlier session, ’La Rambla’ features generous percussives from Peter Lockett. ’Ça Va Dada’ gives us a rare glimpse of Manes the showman, not least in the way a mid-point time change is made without losing the pulse or the prevailing emotional kick. Toty gets to demonstrate his composing voice in the silky-smooth texture of ’View in a Circle’, before the driving momentum of ’Petite Vitesse’ – propelled by Nini Vahiniry’s drumming – steers into less elusive territory. A neat line in transformation is shown by ’Tsy Maninona – reprise’, working up a fair head of steam, before ’Fihavanana’ closes the album on a note of keening regret.
Cleanly engineered by Andrew Fryer, and produced by Manes so that one never forgets that this is music made by an ensemble of individuals, Fihavanana is cultural fusion of the meaningful kind. Bracing, soothing and warm-spirited, it amply confirms Roberto Manes as a musician for the present.