Manhattan Special is out via Tmwork Records

NYC-based jazz group Onyx Collective has shared a new album, ​Manhattan Special​. The ten-track record reaches into the Great American Songbook, reimagining some of the classics written by composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and his writing partners Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960).

Led by saxophonist Isiah Barr, the group had its first release in 2016. They’ve since performed with an ever-evolving lineup of members since. Good luck catching one of their shows though (even after quarantine is over) as they’re notoriously impromptu.

With the help of guest vocals from friends like Kelsey Lu and Nick Hakim, ​Manhattan Special​ feels like a halcyon trip through time in New York City. By pulling entirely from Rodgers’ collection of songs, Onyx Collective had the freedom to explore new interpretations of the classics, incorporating sounds from various genres and eras, while maintaining the record’s cohesiveness.

Watch the official video for “Manhattan”

The opening track, ​”Spring is Here​” with Kelsey Lu, is mysterious and haunting. Onyx’s drummer Austin Williamson fills the air with prog beats while Kelsey’s angelic voice weaves along with Barr’s sax. Anyone who has just recently discovered ​The Talented Mr. Rippley ​via Netflix will love the playfulness of ​”My Funny Valentine” ​with Nick Hakim. The vocal effects make the otherwise classic rendition feel remarkably contemporary. ​”My Favorite Things” ​takes on a Reggae/Ska sound as if Julie Andrews’ famous ​The Sound of Music ​performance took place in a smoke-filled nightclub in NYC’s underworld – rather than on a quaint Austrian hilltop. “Getting to Know You” ​with Okay Kaya and Julian Soto would sound at home on a Mamas and Papas record and will have you daydreaming of rom-com style date montage scenes with the person you just matched with on Hinge.

Of all the songs on the record, my personal favorite is “​Glad to Be Unhappy” ​with dendita. It gives you that feeling of meandering alone in a city on a sun-drenched day – headphones in and away from the world – with the edible you just ate working in tandem with the summery heat radiating off the pavement. The synth pad featured on the track, reminiscent of those used by Daniel Lopatin on the ​Uncut GemsSoundtrack, accentuates the song’s already misty feeling.

We already knew from their elusiveness that Barr and Co have some serious classical chops, but this record highlights an incredible pop sensibility. It’s exciting to hear these songs that have been with us our whole lives reimagined in new ways without losing their nostalgic charm. They’re able to bring out the best in these classics while doing the same with the artists featured. Enjoy this record during your time away from the world and maybe share it with your grandma, I bet she’ll have a story to tell you about the first time she heard one of these classic tunes.


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