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Orange returns to Jazz at the Bistro

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 23, 2011 - In the spring and summer of 2008, a band called Orange - featuring Adam Maness, Syd Rodway and Miles Vandiver of the Erin Bode Group -- made its debut at such venues as the Gramophone, Lucas School House and Jazz at the Bistro.

With Orange, keyboard player Maness, bassist Rodway and drummer Vandiver were stepping out from their usual role as the musical accompaniment and solid support for Bode's crystalline, crowd-pleasing vocals. And the jazz instrumental focus of Orange was a format that worked well. All three musicians came from a strong jazz background, and crowds were appreciative - especially at the band's Bistro performances that July.

The Orange concerts came about during a break in the Erin Bode Group's schedule after the recording sessions for Bode's 2008 "The Little Garden" CD. But as summer turned toward fall, Orange performances gave way once again to a focus on Erin Bode Group concerts, including tours that have taken the band across the Midwest and as far as Tokyo and Italy over the past two years.

It seemed that Orange may have been a short-term project, but with the release of a debut CD and performances set for this Saturday at Jazz at the Bistro, it seems that Orange is blossoming once again as a musical entity.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Maness after the Bode group's recent series of performances in Minnesota. We began by talked about how the Orange CD project came together.

"When we played as Orange at Jazz at the Bistro, Peter Schlamb joined us on vibes," says Maness. "He's been in New York studying music at the New School, but now he's back in St. Louis at least half the time. And Mark Colenburg, who is now the drummer with us in Erin's band, is also now based here in St. Louis after being in New York. So it just seemed like the right time to get together and record as Orange."

Maness wrote seven of the eight songs on the new CD (Schlamb contributed "Theme Song"). And his love of songwriting is clearly the engine that drives Orange.

"I think of myself as a songwriter more than a player," explains Maness. "I really enjoy writing songs with Erin, but putting the lyrics together with the music is a challenge. Both Erin and I are big fans of Paul Simon and his ability to match the syllables in the lyrics to the flow of the melody. So writing instrumentals seems a lot easier in comparison!"

The songs recorded for the Orange CD cover a wide time range, according to Maness.

"I wrote "Mouse On Mars" several years ago," says Maness. "In fact, it was the first jazz song I ever wrote. On the other hand, I wrote "The Crawl" right before we went into the studio to do the recording sessions."

The CD came together quickly. Maness, Rodway, Schlamb and Colenburg got together at Billy Engle's EARStudios twice, and that was that.

"We cut everything in two three-hours sessions at Billy's studio," recalls Maness. "Everything just seemed to be totally together in terms of the band, the music and the recording. I talked with Billy about going for a very clean, straightforward sound - and that's exactly what we captured."

Since Maness knew that Schlamb would be playing vibes on the recordings, he decided to arrange several songs to more prominently feature Schlamb's playing - placing his own keyboard work in more of a supportive role.

"Peter is such an amazing musician," explains Maness. He's really become an excellent vibes player - working with Willie Akins, like so many young musicians including myself have over the years. So with Peter playing vibes, I wanted to use the piano as more of a percussive instrument, like I did on the first track on the CD."

That first track, "Nicoco," begins with Maness laying down a catchy, rhythm that sets up Schlamb's melodic vibe attack. Maness then tears into an angular, solo and the rhythm section of Rodway and Colenburg kicks the music into a higher gear.

From there, the CD shifts through several stylistic changes - moving from the lovely ballad-like feel of "Orange" to the funky swing of "Seven Stouts" and the classically-influenced "Satie for Two."

"It's going to fun playing the music live," concludes Maness. "We're all really looking forward to this!"

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer in St. Louis. 

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.