Doin' It All

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Out of nowhere (but actually from Toronto, Canada), Mantler, aka one Chris Cummings, released this gem of soul-jazz/pop, Doin' It All. Recorded with limited means, this short album (42 minutes) hits surprisingly somewhere between Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and Robert Wyatt. Yes, you read right. Mantler's songs possess the former's catchy melodies, Shuggie Otis feel, and electric piano signature; from the latter he retains a certain dreaminess and freedom in form (some tracks stretch up to ten minutes and leave room for improvisation). Mantler's voice also recalls Auger -- when he could be convinced to use it (think of his performance on the classic Closer to It LP) -- and Wyatt. Both were fragile and highly evocative. Even Mantler's fondness for echo-drenched effects brings to mind some of Soft Machine's early experiments. These six songs are completely keyboard-driven, with multiple electric piano parts providing bass, accompaniment, and soloing lines. A groovy backbone is brought by drum loops. Rodger Evans performs live drums on "Sweet Friend," but the ambient recording used makes them sound distant and canny, so the machine -- which ironically has a '70s retro feel -- does a better job here. The voice is at times mixed in too low, imperfections can be detected here and there, but it doesn't matter. Doin' It All works: It establishes a mood almost instantly and has a very personal signature. For a first album, it shows great maturity. Recommended, especially to fans of Auger.

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