In 34 years atop the Canadian jazz scene, Toronto’s Manteca has been called everything from jazz royalty to an institution (Its extensive archives have been collected by the National Library of Canada). The reality is Manteca is new world jazz for the new world: a nine member artist collective that has created a unique and highly enduring sound with building blocks from jazz, world, funk, folk and contemporary orchestral music.
Founded in 1979 by percussionist Matt Zimbel, bassist Henry Heillig, keyboardist Aaron Davis and saxophonist John Johnson, Manteca was originally a Latin ensemble, later blossoming into a fusion-based outfit, aided by a preference for synths and jazz improvisation. With a rapidly growing fan-base, the group released its first album, Fusion, in 1981, and was crowned "Instrumental Artist of the Year” at the 1989 JUNOSs. After a series of successful CDs with total sales of over 100,000, and tours that led from the Hollywood Bowl to the North Sea Jazz Festival alongside jazz greats like Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald, Manteca took a ten-year hiatus in 1998. In 2007, the band returned with its 9th album, Onward, which marked a shift in direction, incorporating bass clarinet, alto flute, trombone and string bass, and a rhythmic style based less on Latin percussion and more on what the three drummers call "the sonic bubble".
Manteca’s new material – available on their 2013 release, Monday Night at the Mensa Disco – broadcasts a strikingly smart maturity in the arrangements. Moving at a pace that is “calm and comfortable” rather than geared towards “energy with speed,” this is jazz that is elegant and sophisticated, but still has swing, and is rich in melodic undercurrents that tease and capture the ear. It is also jazz that speaks to listeners young and old. "We are driven by an intense desire to see the thrill in our audience's eyes,” says leader Matt Zimbel.