Gig Seeker Pro


Guelph, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2012

Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Jazz Afropop




"Manatee - "Look The Other Way""

Manatee is an impressive act. They are a squadron of flammable imaginative power, and they kindle a capricious blaze. Calling them a jazz ensemble simply will not suffice. Harnessing the intention and talent of various southwestern Ontario stalwarts, they seek to light up the scene with their performative and interactive style.

More than a musical project, Manatee is a social experiment. If you have happened upon any of their live shows or Southern Souls footage, you will quickly see that an audience is integral to any song they create. Surrendering to the inventive moments that emerge out of interactions with people, their songs are changeable, and hard to define. In one moment the audience provides the hand signal for a crescendo, in the next, the heart-wrenching emotion of an interpretive dancer corrals a trumpet into a passionate solo, and in yet another moment, a wildly-dressed fanatic calls for snare shots that build into beautifully timed cacophony. This necessitates the communicative quality of true improvisers, and draws from all minds the passion that exists in a room, not limited to the stage.

The new release exhibits visually stimulating footage from the studio (courtesy of Southern Souls) for every track. By purchasing the album, one receives a download code for each of these live films, where you will witness the various conductors (fans) that were openly invited to participate in creating the music. And the music alone is worth your time. Each song has its own funk/jazz hook, wildly unpredictable, but still undeniably catchy. You get the feeling that the musicians themselves don’t know when the next chorus line will strike. On “King of the Castle,” the hook is bracketed by builds, call and response dialogue, and even a stirring, techno-funk guitar solo from one of the founders, Daniel Kruger. Among others, “Fast Crawl” begins with what seems like a storyline expressed by punchy trumpet, a hovering flute, and beautifully tight staccato drum kit. But what really grabs the audience are what can only be described as “big” horns. As you listen to the album, just wait until you reach the horn line on the final track, “Highlife, Var. 1.”

A warning, take anything you hear of Manatee’s music with a few grains of salt, as spontaneity and interaction are constantly reshaping the flavour and delivery of their sound. What I can promise you is that it will always be a cohesive torrent of eloquent soundscapes, held together by the tasteful rhythm of Dylan White, Andrew Liorti, Josh Kestenberg, and Brent O’Toole. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have yet another mammoth emerging from the Guelph area, and you should not only listen for it, but join the layers of dialogue. - Tim Martin of Southern Souls

"Praise From a Teacher"

"Daniel Kruger and the collection of excellent weirdos he has assembled as Manatee do something extraordinarily rare. They manage, against all reasonable odds, to make strange music accessible while also making accessible music strange. Manatee's music is a raucous party where all are truly welcome, where noise and joy have never been thought strange bedfellows, and where even the most obnoxious of music snobs can't help but shake his ass and holler."

- Joe Sorbara (percussionist, music educator, jazz drum instructor and director of Contemporary Music Ensemble at University of Guelph) - Joe Sorbara of the University of Guelph

"Improvisation Rules at Community House Show"


"Manatee launched into the final set, after having waded through the near-bursting audience with their equipment. Boasting a nine-plus member ensemble – half of which made up a robust and varied horn section – the small living room space was absolutely and utterly enveloped in joyous sound. Self-described as an “Afro-beat/free improvising ensemble,” Manatee’s nearly-entirely improvised material was infectious. Various hand motions from lead guitarist Dan Kruger along with the rest of the ensemble saw seamless collective shifts in tempo and timing, making for a fascinating demonstration of mass improvisation and musical teamwork.

Like Episteme Ensemble, Manatee featured many familiar faces from the music department, and their lively performance invoked excited and ecstatic responses from attendees who were now filling every possible pocket of space in the living room and out into the kitchen and entranceway of the small home on Neeve Street. There was an undeniable feeling of harmony not only within Manatee, but within the entire crowd, and there was the distinct impression that something incredibly special was happening, and we were all experiencing it together." - Robyn Nicholson of the Ontarion


Daniel Kruger returned from a semester abroad at the University of Ghana with new ideas about jazz and improvisational music that he wanted to turn into a musical project.

“I was really inspired by Afrobeat and West African music that has a rhythm that repeats for the whole piece while anchoring everything. These seemingly simple melodic or rhythmic parts would often be quite repetitive, but would add up to a massive sum of musical greatness,” Kruger says.

A University of Guelph music student, Kruger didn’t start listening or playing jazz music until he began studying in the school’s jazz program.

“A lot of jazz musicians have this amazing romantic story like, ‘I heard this one record and it was over,’ but to be honest I didn’t listen to a lot of jazz music growing up and I got into it largely by accident.”

Kruger pulled together University of Guelph classmates and others whom he had played with to form Manatee, a large jazz and improvisation ensemble.

Two important musical ideas that influenced Manatee’s inception are sound painting and free improvisation. Sound painting, developed by Walter Thompson, is a musical system in which a conductor uses hand signals to negotiate a piece of music for a large ensemble. Free improvisation is when musicians are invited to improvise across musical idioms without a predetermined structure. Any sound could happen at any time in free improvised music.

Manatee invites the audience to control the band’s live performances by using hand signals. Kruger explains that at concerts, people who are outside of the room, dead or alive, usually influence the music more than the audience does. Performers are influenced by sounds they heard other musicians play before them and all those sounds contribute to what they eventually play.

“Bach is influencing, in some way, tons of musicians who play, and he has been dead for hundreds of years. I think the audience’s ability to affect the music should be greater in order to make the music more relevant to the moment.”

Manatee encourages the audience to learn hand signals by watching the band members use them, observing their effect, and then deciphering their meaning. Once an audience member believes they know what a signal means they can use it to affect the music. Suddenly, the music becomes more relevant because audience members can create musical moments instead of simply listening to them happen.

“It’s the difference between the audience coming to the performance and at the beginning deciding that they will be quiet, clap, leave, and that’s it. That’s usually all that happens at concerts in terms of audience participation. Hand signals allow the audience to be engaged without having to be intimidated or overconfident.”

Manatee will never play a piece the same way twice because their pieces are largely improvised. The band remains in a system and an idea for each piece, but the order in which things happen, and the mood in which ideas are expressed always changes.

Manatee played at the Guelph Jazz Festival on Saturday, adding to the breadth of improvised music the festival showcases.

“Its my favourite festival I’ve ever been to. I’ve been coming to this festival for four or five years and every year I think, ‘Holy crap, these musicians are amazing,’ so we are pretty excited to have been a part of it.” - Andrea Seccafien of District Magazine

"An Afternoon at the Guelph Jazz Festival"

For the afternoon’s first interview, Daniel Kruger (guitar) and Andrew Liorti (keys) from Guelph and Toronto based Manatee, had some time to discuss their creative process and the importance of personality.

AP: How do you strike a balance between structure and spontaneity? What comes from practicing that?

DK: That’s a great question. I think the first thing about that is that spontaneity often comes through structure when you improvise. So, there’s that whole thing, I think [Charles] Mingus said, “you have to improvise on something.” I don’t think he was necessarily referring to strict structure, but at least an idea, and often the ideas that we use to improvise are quite structured. So, you’re right that there is a process in which we try to strike a balance between those two things, but at the same time the spontaneity comes from the structure, and vice versa, because we understand the structure of each piece. Sometimes something will happen in the piece that will lead naturally into one of the more structured sections, you know?

AL: Yeah, spontaneity can breed structure in that sense. You create an idea that came from improvising over a different idea. I think that’s one of the most fun things about it.

DK: So, I guess part of the balance is just realizing that those two things are so interconnected. If you separate them too much, then I think you lose the balance.

AP: So, with a lineup this big I imagine it changes often. What kind of changes come from who can make it to a gig, and when?

DK: We are all different personalities and have had different musical experiences, and like any improv group, we all bring our own desires and goals. So, I guess it changes in that regard. You have a different set of personalities that are more comfortable or less comfortable doing different things. So, we really do structure a lot of what we do based on who is there, both improvisationally and the more nitty-gritty “who is playing what part.”

AL: It does feel like, when playing in a smaller group, people feel less obliged to put 110 per cent effort into coordinating performances and rehearsals. In this group, it feels like everyone realizes, “Well, there’s like 11 of us,” so we have to make sure that we at least put in that organizing effort. It feels like we all realize that, because with any other four-piece or three-piece group I wouldn’t expect that level of devotion to organizing.

AP: Know any good jazz jokes?

AL: I’ve got one. How do you make a buck in music? Start with a million. - Adiren Willem of The Ontarion


2014 - Live @ Silence 
2015 - Look The Other Way (audio/video EP)



Manatee has excited crowds at the Guelph Jazz Festival, Toronto's Open Roof Festival, The NUMUS concert series, Kazoo Fest! and many more. On January 15th, 2015 Manatee will release its debut audio/video album "Look The Other Way" to be available on iTunes, BandCamp and CD Baby.

Audience participation is an essential part of Manatee's sound and performance. If all goes to plan, the majority of Manatee's music is controlled by the audience! By allowing the audience to learn the group's hand signals and use them, Manatee pieces become a collaboration between the audience and the band! Manatee wants to make music with everyone, and we think we've found a way to do it.

Through a vast combination of musical systems and ideas Manatee has forged a brand new sound and process for music-making. Come out to a show and make some music with us!


Manatee's orchestration and sound owe a lot to West African afrobeat and highlife and music. Specifically, the music of Fela Kuti and the Kuti family, Ebo Taylor, Osibisa, E.T. Mensah, Prince Nico Mbarga, and the Bokoor band have had a special impact on Manatee's music.

Each Manatee piece is anchored by two repeating rhythmic patterns called "timelines." The musical concept of timelines is something guitarist Daniel Kruger was exposed to while studying music at the University of Ghana, West Africa. Traditional drumming music of Ghana uses timelines to guide dancers and drummers involved in the music. Each timeline has a name, and Manatee uses several Ghanaian timelines. Each Manatee piece that uses a Ghanaian timeline is named after it. 

Several hand signals Manatee uses are borrowed from Walter Thompson's "Soundpainting" system of composition. In Soundpainting, an ensemble of improvising musicians and a conductor compose pieces of music in real time as the conductor guides the ensemble by using Thompson's collection of musical hand signals. Butch Morris' system of "Conduction" is similar, and Manatee borrows from it as well.


Here's an incomplete, bendable set of Manatee rules.


1. Head/pre-composed section comes first

2. Improvised/Audience controlled section follows

3. Piece ends with a pre-composed ending, signaled by an ensemble member/audience member

Hand Signals:

Head> Tap top of head. Once the ensemble sees the signal, conduct two beats before entering the head.

Switch Rhythm> Wag your finger back and forth like you’re saying “no” to someone. Conduct two beats before switching.

Solo> Open and close your hand like a blinking light, then point to the band member you want to solo. 

Intro> Pull on ear lobe and conduct two beats before beginning the intro.

Make Your Own Timeline> Tap your wrist, then begin playing a rhythmic ostinato. The rest of the group will follow. 

*Hits> Put both hands up and pretend you're punching/slapping a wall in front of you with both hands. The higher your hands are the higher pitched the hit will be. Lower your hands to signal a low pitched hit.

*Volume> Two fingers on an upright forearm slide up and down like a mixing board to control volume.

*Tempo> Hold one forearm horizontal, crossed with your other forearm. Raise the horizontal forearm to increase tempo, lower it to decrease. Nodding your head along with the desired tempo helps to direct the band.

End> Raise a closed fist. Conduct two beats before entering the end section.

* = Signal borrowed from Walter Thompson’s “Sound Painting” system. Several other unlisted signals used in Manatee are borrowed from the same system.


Danny Berezowski: Tenor Saxophone
Danielle Fernandes: Alto Saxophone
Aldwyn Hogg Jr: Flute
Josh Kestenberg: Drums
Daniel Kruger: Guitar
Andrew Liorti: Keys
Keegan Lutek: Trumpet
Brent O'Toole: Percussion
Jake Scott: Alto Saxophone
Dylan White: Bass
Matt Manassis: Baritone Saxophone

Band Members