BY JACK PARKINSON
The Button Factory is a quiet building most days, but sometimes it hosts concerts for Numus, a local music organization committed to providing new and invigorating music.
A recent concert showcased the Guelph-based improvisation group Manatee, which has 11 members who play traditional jazz instruments along with a flute and synthesizer.
The event was very low key: the Button Factory is a small, arts-centric building on Regina Street in Waterloo built in the skeleton of an industrial manufacturing centre.
Manatee’s sound is warm and easy to listen to. As someone who, admittedly, is not a connoisseur of cutting-edge music, Manatee’s songs were complex enough to challenge my ears but straightforward enough for me to bob my head along with the rhythm. What I mean by this is that Manatee combines a full, brassy sound with occasional sections of dissonance. The band has complete songs, but due to the highly improvisational nature of their music they used the tracks as a guide more than a proper set list.
After entering the Button Factory and climbing two flights of narrow stairs, I entered the loft area that served as the concert hall. There were about 50 plastic chairs arranged with an aisle down the middle of them and the band was warming up their instruments – I had to shout to the woman at the ticket table.
Once I sat down the band came out and Daniel Kruger, the guitarist, introduced each member. He also mentioned that this was one of their first concerts, which made the subsequent performance all the more impressive. They played for about an hour and a quarter, which I felt was completely fair for the price of admission – $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students.
Kruger said the band uses a variety of hand signals to communicate with each other and direct the flow of the music. The audience was invited to use these same signals (once they had figured them out) to direct the flow. Only a couple of audience members took up the offer, but it was great to see Manatee’s commitment to improvisational music. Their first album, Look The Other Way, can be purchased on iTunes or on their website at manateesounds.bandcamp.com.
Manatee’s performance was part of Numus’s “mix series” of concerts, which focuses on improvisational music and emerging artists. The mix series runs in contrast to the “main series,” which has more traditional music and more established names. Both concert series are overseen and organized by Kathryn Ladano, Numus’s artistic director for the 2014-2015 season, who has done an admirable job of making exciting, atypical music accessible and affordable for the average consumer.
And at the end of the day, that is what Manatee gave me: great, interesting music that anyone could hear and appreciate.