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Manazma Sheen forges modern jazz in weekly residency

Seattle's Manazma Sheen (l-r): Luiggi Chancaffe, Jackson Cotugno, Danny Nefos, Trevor Pelletier, Al Marra
Shelby Sleight
Manazma Sheen
Seattle's Manazma Sheen (l-r): Luiggi Chancaffe, Jackson Cotugno, Davy Nefos, Trevor Pelletier, Al Marra

Making the most of weekly gigs at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford, Manazma Sheen is honing their jazz fusion sound and making connections with the community. Their regular Thursday night performances are one of several at this club and benefit the artists, venue and local music scene.

The benefits of a live residency are straight-forward: A group of musicians gains valuable experience working regularly in a venue for an audience, more so than alone in a practice room. Weekly shows can also attract a regular audience, often including musicians interested in collaborations.

Drummer Davy Nefos, bassist Trevor Pelletier and vibraphonist Al Marra are the core of Manazma Sheen, though the name of the group is a recent development (a twist on former band name Man As Machine). Over the past five years the group's music has been evolving without too much discussion, it's the natural development of these specific musicians that makes their music unique.

Nefos pointed to groove-centric groups like Medeski, Martin and Wood and trumpeter Roy Hargrove's RH Factor.

"This is backbeat city! Especially at the Seamonster, you need to play funky," he said.

Bassist Pelletier suggested that shared backgrounds in classical music also make an impact in Manazma Sheen.

"We're thinking big picture with songs like a classical composer would do," Pelletier explained.

Vibraphonist Marra writes Manazma Sheen's original music, but the arrangements are shared among all the players. On one Thursday, the group opened with a funky original before a clever version of Miles Davis' hardbop classic "Four." You might hear pulsing and soulful, at times atmospheric, original pieces along with distinctive arrangements of pop songs by David Bowie and Cyndi Lauper.

"Part of the business is playing for the audience, keeping them in the club to buy drinks. That's part of the industry," Nefos said.

The tricky part is playing songs that please both the audience and the musicians, which Manazma Sheen does with a joyful exuberance. The setting is great for trying out new songs in a real-life environment, too.

"It's like the Mel Lewis Big Band at the Village Vanguard, they never rehearsed," Nefos said. Marra added that the regular gig "keeps up our momentum. We bring in new ideas and also work on interacting with the players."

Other band members include Earshot Golden Ear Award-winning emerging artist Jackson Cotugno on Electronic Wind Instrument and young guitarist Luiggi Chancaffe. His first time playing with the band, Chancaffe was pleasantly surprised to find the seasoned musicians so encouraging.

As for the band's future plans, these musicians are realistic but passionate about sharing their music. Marra aspired to pushing their music as far as they can. Pelletier hoped to play for as many people as possible. Nefos felt it's important the band document what they do and hopes for a recording session later this year.

Manazma Sheen is also looking to share bills with similarly inclined bands, like saxophonist Cliff Colon's new modern jazz-rock group Jazz Overhaul. They've also performed at Vermillion Art Bar as part of the Seattle Jazz Fellowship's concert series.

Find past Manazma Sheen performances on their YouTube page. And of course, you can catch them at the Seamonster Lounge every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. It's free, so bring friends.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

Corrected: March 23, 2023 at 11:24 AM PDT
Clarified Cotugno and Chancaffe are both active band members.
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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.