“Every time I play, I want to sound like myself and add to the legacy of the music. That is my main goal; to sound like who I am as a person and to play music that both challenges me and that people will enjoy.” –Nick Manson
Emmy-winning composer/arranger/producer/pianist Nick Manson’s play drifts effortlessly and powerfully from sharp and supple, to angular and outside the lines.
And the voice. Oh, the late Roby Duke’s voice will make you swoon and forget everything—even Ray Charles, the man inspiring this 2006 CD release.
Instrumentals “Dawn Ray” and “Hit The Road, Jack” capitalize on Manson’s storied history with TV and movie soundtracks, love of big band sound, as well as his early teen years learning on the fly by playing piano with the best Northwest jazz musicians gigging at his parents’ restaurant. Notes fly with swinging precision, flashy syncopation, and a little somethin’ somethin’ he throws in all his own.
And then the third track, “You Don’t Know Me,” comes on—and it’s a different ball game. Ray Charles did well on this majestic, classic love song (Groundhog Day repopularized it for the masses), hitting #2 on the Billboards in 1962. But Duke does him better. The key to singing this song is all about the phrasing and the emotion behind it.
Duke conveys a heartbreaking sense of rejection and loneliness wrapped up inside a romanticism that remains afraid of its shadow after past letdowns. His deep, throaty, weathered voice is true, yet strained, holding back so much passion and hope under such a compelling velvety cover. When he hits those plaintive high notes, it’s mesmerizing. Supported in full instrumentally, especially by Manson’s piano and Steve Huffsteter’s trumpet, this is a definitive stand-out hit that makes the listener wish for more of the same.
What’s unique about this album is its success both musically and lyrically. Usually, one element can’t rise without the other falling. Nick Manson’s mastery of production ensures this doesn’t happen. Whether the song is an instrumental or prosaic, Manson and his band give equal consideration. The music mirrors and enhances the emotional soul and storied content, and the vocals just soar. As it should be.
Nick Manson takes care of the keys, while his band brings out the highlights and sets the mood for each and every selection. Not surprisingly, the band members are tops in their field: acoustic bassist Dean Taba, drummer Kendall Kay, guitarists Kenny Lasaine, Brad Rabuchin, and Rick Schmunk, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, Andy Suzuki on reeds/woodwinds, and Roby Duke handling vocals, nearly stealing the show.
By the time the swinging 1960s-esque “What’d I Say” comes around the corner, you’ll be saying, “Ray Charles, who?”