Maneri/Morris/Maneri: Three Men Walking (ECM 1597)

Joe Maneri
Three Men Walking

Joe Maneri clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone, piano
Joe Morris electric guitar
Mat Maneri electric 6 string violin
Recorded October/November 1995, Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Produced by Steve Lake

Joe Maneri (1927-2009) was something of an overnight success story. A musician of eclectic training, charting waters as varied as Dixieland and Second Viennese School dodecaphony, he consolidated years of life experience and sensitive listening into his development of a formidable microtonal system that divides the octave 72 times over. Another portion of that life experience forged a powerful working relationship with son Mat Maneri, who on this first ECM outing joins his father and guitarist Joe Morris for a uniquely delectable set of free improvisation that pushed father Maneri into the spotlight. The result is a sound that doesn’t so much read as embody between the lines, unfolding swooning tones we’ve all but forgotten in the throes of tempered convention.

The strangely feathered and flightless “Calling” inaugurates a chain of fourteen vignettes, each more beguiling than the last. Yet this blissful confusion is exactly what we crave, for once we open ourselves to it we see there is a vast internal logic at work in every twitch of embouchure, bow, and pick. Each is a bridge to the other, so that by the end we are left with an Escherian conundrum—only here the illusion is real. Maneri the elder may be the central voice, but he speaks even when he sits out for a spell. Maneri the younger emotes in drips and drabs, yet with such potency that quality reigns over quantity. The dark combinations he engenders in “What’s New” make of us still fixtures on the wall of an abandoned workshop, scraping rusty tools and unfinished projects as if they were alive and new. Morris, too, bends to the will of the moment, most notably in “Deep Paths.” The session’s longest take, this nine-minute excursion unearths geodes of pointillism toward a fluttering conclusion.

Three Men Walking wouldn’t be complete without a pinch of solos for good measure. The prickly cactus of Morris’s in “If Not Now” further lures us into his art, churning and squirming alongside the worms it has just disturbed. In the melting portrait of “Through A Glass Darkly” we explore the electric violin’s deeper coves, while “Diuturnal” writhes through a morphing alto in a state I can only describe as inevitability. To make the package even fuller, the late Maneri dedicates a razor-thin piano solo to Josef Schmid, one of Alban Berg’s first students and an influential teacher of the sage at the keys.

As if the above weren’t enough, this intimate date is suitably recorded and engineered in an enclosed space. We can therefore thank Steve Lake not only for revealing this pliant jewel through his production, but also for showing us that resonance is where the heart is. These are musicians who tell you what they’ve seen, how they’ve seen it, as they’ve seen it. All too often I submit to the convenience of the word “conversational” to describe the effect of great improvising, yet in the wake of such free jazz integrity as this there is something far greater still at work. Whatever that something is, it slumbers like the heat in our mitochondria. This is music that writes itself, living at the edge of sacrifice.

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