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Another Spin
A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Link in the Evolution of Mann

By 1969, Manfred Mann had gotten tired of the band that bore his name. Initially Mann and drummer Mike Hugg had started out as more of a modern jazz and R&B band (originally called the Mann Huggs Blues Brothers Band), but as the Beatles gained popularity, they developed more of a pop sound, exemplified in their biggest hit "Do Wah Ditty." Manfred Mann, the band (also known as the Manfreds), continued in that pop vein throughout the sixties, even after original lead singer Paul Jones left in 1966 and was replaced by Mike D'Abo. D'Abo can be heard on the band's other big hit, 1968's "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)." But through it all, Mann and Hugg never gave up their jazz roots.
Sensing change in the music, and due to a decrease in record sales, Mann decided to disband the group that bore his moniker for over five years and form Chapter III, in a nod to the Paul Jones era (chapter I) and the Mike D'Abo era (chapter II). He and Hugg formed the new band as an attempt to fuse modern jazz and rock music. They released two albums, simply Volume One and Volume Two, before Mann dissolved this group and formed Manfred Mann's Earth Band (chapter IV?) in 1972.
Chapter III is an interesting experiment, and while bands like Chicago fused horn sections into their music around the same time, no band fused jazz and rock quite like Mann. Your enjoyment of Chapter III I guess depends upon your appreciation of modern jazz. Often, Chapter III is labeled as "progressive rock," but that applies more to the work of the MMEB than this earlier incarnation.
One of the main problems I had with Chapter III is Mike Hugg's vocals. While Jones and D'Abo were both decent singers, neither would fit well with Mann's new style; yet Hugg's reedy, strained voice makes it clear why he was a drummer in the first two line-ups. Mick Rogers, who became the lead singer for MMEB, may have been a good choice (and Rogers had collaborated with Hugg and Mann around this time), but Chapter III had strict rules against lead guitar, which was Rogers instrument.
If you can muster past Hugg's voice, there are some decent songs; "Travelling Lady" starts out the album with a heavy plodding beat with some fantastic horns sections, and a good jazz sax solo. "Snakeskin Garter" keeps the laid back feeling, while "Sometimes" echoes back to the more pop sensibilities of the previous incarnations of Manfred Mann, and "Ain't It Sad" sound like a leftover from "The Mighty Quinn" sessions. But the highlight of the album for my money is "One Way Glass," (sung by Mann instead of Hugg), which is probably the best marriage of the rock-jazz concept, and what Chapter III should have strived for throughout this experiment. The rest of the album probes too much into experimental jazz for most rock fans or jazz fans to really enjoy.
As I stated earlier, Mann and Hugg only made two albums with Chapter III before disbanding and going their separate ways. Neither album was very successful commercially nor critically, though both receive a sort of cult status by collectors now. Mann continued to dabble in jazz with his next group the Manfred Mann Earth Band, though he realized the need to be more mainstream to sell his records.
Given a better singer and a little more direction, Volume One may have become one of the great lost classics of the late sixties. I have not heard Volume Two, though I've read it's pretty much a continuation of its predecessor; Hugg is still the vocalist. Manfred Mann Chapter III is an important step in the evolution of the Manfred Mann sound (the MMEB re-recorded "One Way Glass" with Mick Rogers on vocals, though it sounds quite different). Hardcore Manfred Mann fans and fans of the more experimental bands of the sixties may want to add Chapter III's records to their collection. For the rest of us, they're just odd curios of late twentieth century music; songs that could evolve into something better down the road.

Posted at 12:19 pm ET