With his nine previous albums, saxophonist Jacám Manricks established his bona fides as a composer, arranger, and improviser of the highest order. A multi-instrumental master, he spent more than a decade in New York City collaborating and recording with definitive 21st-century players such as drummers Tyshawn Sorey, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Matt Wilson, guitarists Ben Monder and Adam Rogers, pianists Gary Versace and Kevin Hays, and bassists Thomas Morgan and Joe Martin. Manricks’s new album Samadhi documents his continuing evolution as a player and composer, while also marking his emergence as a creative force on the other side of the studio window.
Since relocating to Sacramento in 2014, Manricks has built a home studio and intensively studied the art of sound engineering. With New York compatriots Clarence Penn on drums and Matt Penman on bass, and Sacramento pianist Joe Gilman, Samadhi doesn’t just feature his original compositions and arrangements. Manricks produced, recorded, engineered, and mixed the project, while also writing and creating the gorgeous orchestrations that expand the instrumental palette on several tracks. It’s the fullest view yet of a resourceful and vividly imaginative composer also known for working in orchestral and chamber music settings.
Born in Australia in 1976, Jacám Manricks hails from a distinguished musical family with global reach. His parents played in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in his hometown of Brisbane, and his paternal grandparents were also accomplished musicians. Though he never met his grandfather, who was born in Portugal’s Indian colony Goa, he inherited a passion for jazz from him. An alto saxophonist and clarinetist, Mario Manricks went on to earn a good deal of renown as a jazz and classical reed player in post-World War II Sri Lanka.
“I still have his Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone and several of his clarinets,” Manricks says. “He got well known leading a big band, but he also played classical music. My grandmother, a concert pianist, performed with him on Sri Lankan radio.”
All of their children went on to play music professionally, including Manricks’s father, Sri Lankan-born cellist Camillio Manricks. He came to the United States to study as a teenager, attending the Peabody Conservatory and eventually settling in Australia, where he met his mother, an orchestral flute and piccolo player trained in the French classical style influenced by Marcel Moyse and Jean Pierre-Rampal. Jacám grew up attending his parents’ symphony concerts and delving into his father’s extensive jazz record collection. And when he wanted to start learning the saxophone at nine, his parents brought in a musician buddy for lessons.
After earning a degree in classical and jazz saxophone and honing his skills on multiple woodwinds, Manricks started working steadily in pit bands and orchestras while also forging close ties with the top jazz players in Sydney. The great Sydney-based Kiwi pianist Mike Nock, a founding member of the pioneering Bay Area fusion band The Fourth Way with violinist Michael White, drummer Eddie Marshall, and bassist Ron McClure, became an important mentor. Other mentors were multi-instrumentalist James Morrison and his brother John, a renowned Sydney based-bandleader and drummer.
A study grant paved the way for Manricks to move to New York City to study at William Paterson University’s vaunted jazz program. After attaining a Master’s in Composition, he went on to earn a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in Jazz Arts from the Manhattan School of Music in 2007, a program that allowed him to pursue his love of classical music as well as cutting-edge jazz. He manifested his growing confidence in combining both traditions on 2009’s Labyrinth ,a critically hailed project focusing on a diverse collection of Manricks originals that featured his settings for a chamber orchestra and a state-of-the-art quintet with guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
Manricks followed up with 2010’s Trigonometry, another stellar program of originals (and a blazing version of Eric Dolphy’s “Miss Ann”) with pianist Gary Versace, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Obed Calvaire, trombonist Alan Ferber, and trumpeter Scott Wendholt. It was the first of two excellent releases for the adventurous Posi-Tone label, with the subsequent album further establishing Manricks as an essential voice on the contemporary scene.
Focusing on the alto sax on 2012’s Cloud Nine, he arranged a set of original tunes (and Jobim’s
ineffable melody “Luiza”) for a supremely flexible and texturally acute quartet with guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Matt Wilson, and organist Sam Yahel. While the title of his next release, Chamber Jazz, suggests the kind of expanded arrangements he explores on Samadhi, the 2016 album featuring Kevin Hays on piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist Gianluca Renzi, and drummer Ari Hoenig refers to the contrapuntal compositional forms more than instrumentation (though several tracks do include overdubbed orchestrations).
Always looking for opportunities to work with similarly adventurous peers, he performs with drummer extraordinaire Jeff “Tain” Watts’s Big Band. Additionally, Manricks runs his own 19- piece big band (the JMO), a Supersax-type ensemble (5-saxophone quintet and rhythm section), and is a member of the Capital Jazz Project, a not-for-profit ensemble of Sacramento-based jazz artists with the mission to make high-quality jazz and jazz education available to audiences through community outreach, concerts, and clinics.
A dedicated educator who’s conducted master classes and workshops around the world, Manricks was part of the music faculty at the University of California, Davis for 5 years. And now his studio is another creative vehicle that’s bringing a whole new set of master musicians into his orbit.
For his own music, Samadhi is the latest milestone, a snapshot of an inveterately creative musical mind expanding and growing.